The Lotus Eater
By Mabel S. Harmer
School began the second week in September and Helen found herself in a whirl of work and excitement such as she had not experienced since she first began to teach.
Her first big assignment was the music festival which was scheduled to take place in October, just one month after the beginning of school. She decided to use an Indian theme and went around home talking so much “Indian” that her brothers declared they were going to get her a blanket and tomahawk and move her out into a tepee.
They were all intensely proud of her, however, when the affair was over and turned out to be what Ted called a “howling success.” Every member of the family had given his best efforts to help her and had scoured the town for costumes, properties and scenery until each declared that his friends ran when they saw him coming.
“I hope that next time you’ll put on a fairy revel and hand each one a couple of yards of cheesecloth and a bunch of daisies,” said Marvin at breakfast the day after the performance. “I am completely worn out.”
“You forget that there won’t be a next time,” laughed Helen, “but if there were I should be tempted to follow your suggestion.”
The two boys shuffled off to their customary Saturday holiday revels and Helen and Nina were left alone at the breakfast table. “I do think it was sweet of Wendell to get in and help me the way he did last night,” Helen continued after the boys had left. “He is so dependable, isn’t he?”
“Oh, yes,” assented Nina, with a shrug of her shoulders, “Wendell is thoroughly dependable and er – ‘sweet’ as you say.”
“And is that anything against him?” Helen was moved by her sister’s tone to inquire.
“No. Only I want more than mere dependability in a man.” Nina spoke in a low tone as if partly to herself. “I want romance and thrills and everything!”
“Well, my dear, I hope you get ‘everything,’” said Helen seriously, and then added in a lighter tone as she arose from the table, “perhaps you will, if you don’t get in too big of a hurry.”
For the first time now Dan began to urge her to return home. He reminded her that travel through the mountains would become very difficult, not to say dangerous, after the snow fell. Helen realized this also and decided to have a thorough understanding with Mr. Winters at once as to how much longer they intended to have her teach. When she approached him upon the matter he said, “I have been talking this over with the members of the board and they are most anxious to have you stay for the rest of the school year. You have made such an excellent beginning here, and the festival was so successful, that they are willing to make it very much worth your while to finish out the school year.”
Helen shook her head dubiously. “I’ll let you know soon,” she said, half wishing that he had not put the temptation before her again. Within a short time she had decided that she might as well stay a few months longer and wrote Dan to this effect.
His reply almost shook her decision to stay. He wrote, “My dear, long ago I fought against falling in love with you because I was afraid that you would not be able to face life out in this rugged country. It is all right for the ones who have lived here always, but I knew that it wouldn’t be fair to expect you to make a go of it. Well, you made a brave try and if you don’t come back I can’t blame you too much. I shall love you always. Dan.”
The letter left her in tears and she was about to pack up and rush back to him, but she had given her word to stay now and on thinking it over she decided that it was better all the way around if she did stay and accomplish what she had set out to do. with the extra money she could save from an entire year’s teaching she could do no end of things to the ranch house. She even visualized a bathroom with green marble fixtures. Surely a year was not too much to sacrifice when it would mean so much to her in the end. Even Dan must be persuaded to see it that way.
Having made up her mind to stay, Helen went vigorously ahead with plans for the year’s work. She would have been extremely happy in her teaching if she had had Dan’s approval, but she was quite sure that she could convince him that she had been justified in remaining when she had an opportunity to talk the matter over with him.
It was the week following her decision to remain for the winter that Helen came home one day to find Danny gone. He was left in the charge of his grandmother during the day and had never before shown any inclination to leave the place without some member of the family. Consequently, he was often left to play out in the yard by himself. Helen refused at first to believe that he was not some place around the house and searched every corner thoroughly, even going through the closets and looking under the beds. When neither the house nor the yard yielded a trace of the little fellow, she began to search the nearby streets with fear growing constantly in her heart.
She soon decided that she must have more help and started her two brothers off in different directions. Her mother, who had been trying to keep Helen calm by not showing her own fear, suggested, “If you only had someone with a car you could cover the ground much faster. Why don’t you call Wayne Kent?”
Helen had more or less avoided Wayne since the night of his birthday dinner when he had taken her down to see the ocean in the moonlight, although she realized that he had given her no particular reason to do so. Now, however, as she could not reach her father to get their own car, and with only the thought of Danny in her mind, she rushed to the telephone and called his office.
“My baby is lost,” she said, choking up as if uttering the words for the first time made her feel their full import. “Could you come over and take me out in your car to find him?”
“Why, of course,” he answered in a businesslike tone. “Is there anyplace in particular that he liked to go?”
“He is very fond of both the beach and the park, but he never suggested going to either one alone,” said Helen, somewhat relieved to have a steadier head than her own in charge of the search.
“Let’s try the park first, then, since it is the closer,” suggested Wayne as they started off. Helen kept a sharp look out on both sides of the street for a tiny figure in a blue suit, but there was no sign of him anywhere along the way. They searched the park from one end to the other with the same discouraging results, and Helen felt her throat tighten and her lips quiver.
“He never could have gone to the beach alone,” she said in a strained voice, “but I don’t know where else to go.”
“Then we’ll go to the beach. We’re bound to find him if we keep on going, so don’t worry.”
“Don’t worry” were futile words to the anxious mother, but she felt somewhat comforted by his optimism. It was growing dusk when they turned away from the beach and started back home again. They had searched in every spot where crowds of children were gathered until Helen was sick with disappointment.
Her face was white and drawn as they drove along still looking hopefully at every child on the street. If only Dan were here! Surely he would think of something that could be done. Then suddenly she saw Danny. As they were passing a lot only a few blocks from home she saw a small golden head emerging through a gap in a hedge, and at her cry Wayne quickly stopped his car. The tears which she had bravely held back until now, rolled down her cheeks as she held her baby in her arms and kissed him over and over again.
“Oh, Danny boy,” she cried, “where have you been? Why did you run away?”
He gazed at her solemnly, wondering at her tears. Finally he said, “Doggie runned away. I look for him.”
“The doggie –” began Helen in puzzled tones. Then as she began to understand she looked up at Wayne with a wry smile. “I put his little cloth dog away this morning and he has been searching for it.” Then continuing, to the child, “the doggie is home asleep in mother’s dresser, Danny. Let’s go and get him.”
As they stopped in front of her house she set Danny down on the ground with the words, “Run in quickly and tell grandmother you are found again. She has been just as much worried as mother has.”
Danny didn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about, but he did as he was told and ran up to the house as fast as his chubby legs could carry him.
As he disappeared in the door, Helen turned to Wayne and laid her hand upon his arm. “You don’t know how grateful I am,” she said in a voice trembling with emotion.
He grasped her hand quickly in his and said in a low, tense voice, “There’s nothing in the world I wouldn’t do for you, Helen – you know that, don’t you?”
She withdrew her hand, her face burning. “I’m sorry, Wayne,” she stammered, “I think that I had better go in now.”
He detained her a moment longer. “If you should ever decide not to go back – ”
“But I am going back,” she interrupted in a low voice. “I’m sorry it had to happen like this after what you have done for me. Please forgive me if I go now. Goodbye.”
She stepped swiftly out of the car and ran up the walk to the house.