The Lotus Eater
By Mabel S. Harmer
One night during the Thanksgiving holidays Helen sat up late in her own room reading and was about to undress for bed when the telephone rang. Thinking that she was the only one of the family still up, she stepped out into the hall to answer and had just taken the receiver down when she heard Nina answering from the phone downstairs. Ordinarily she would have hung up immediately, but a call at eleven o’clock more than aroused her curiosity and she felt justified in waiting to hear the message.
It was Cary Hughes calling, as Helen had suspected, and he was asking Nina to meet him and go out to supper.
“But it’s so late,” Nina demurred. “Wouldn’t some other night do?”
“It isn’t late for grownups,” drawled Cary in a slightly contemptuous tone. “Of course it is time for all children to be in bed.”
This was enough to persuade Nina, as he evidently had known it would be. She was continually afraid that Cary would consider her too young and unsophisticated for his company.
“All right,” she agreed. “I’ll be ready in fifteen minutes. Where are we going?”
“We’ll drive out to the ‘Green Dragon.’ We can make it in half an hour. I’ll pick you up on the corner.”
Helen hung up the receiver and slipped back into her bedroom as she heard Nina dash up the stairs and into her room to change her dress. She sank down on a chair, sick at heart. Her first impulse was to go to Nina and beg her not to go, but she knew that even if she stopped her from going this time, she would not have gained anything in the long run. Every word spoken against Cary or any opposition to her going out with him only seemed to add to her determination to be in his company as much as possible. Helen dared not tell her father. Although he was ordinarily of a very mild disposition, he seemed to go completely wild on the subject of Cary Hughes and had uttered dire threats against both Nina and the man if the friendship did not discontinue.
She would like to have called Wayne, but since the night that Danny had been lost and he had all but declared his love for her, Helen had avoided him whenever she could. There was only one possibility left. She would have to call Wendell Baker. Nina would be furious if she ever found out about it, but Helen felt that she simply had to do something.
As soon as Nina had left the house, Helen called Wendell and was very much relieved to find him at home. She told him the situation in as few words as possible and Wendell promised to call for her as soon as he could get there.
Helen put on a light wrap and slipped down the stairs. From the shadows of the porch she saw the younger girl walk rapidly to the corner and get into the expensive looking car that slid up to the curbing.
It was another ten minutes before Wendell arrived, and after she had seated herself in the car, Helen explained the situation a little more thoroughly. “Do you know where the place is?” she asked hopefully.
“Just that it is somewhere south of town several miles,” answered Wendell, “but we’ll find it. You needn’t worry about that. The trouble is, what will we do when we find it? You know, we can’t just walk up to the girl and say, ‘Sister, dear sister, come home with me now. The clock in the steeple strikes twelve.’”
“Don’t joke about it,” said Helen, on the verge of tears.
“I’m not joking,” answered Wendell grimly. “You haven’t any idea how this hurts me. I’ve loved Nina as long as I can remember – ever since she was a little thing in pink gingham dresses with flyaway golden curls. I’ve wanted to push Cary Hughes off into the ocean every time he has looked at her,” he finished vehemently.
In spite of her worry, Helen smiled at his outburst. “You mustn’t blame Nina too much,” she said. “Nearly every girl will succumb to the admiration of an older man, and there really is something very fascinating about Cary. But I do wish we could do something about it,” she ended with a sigh.
“Maybe we can – and maybe it will be tonight,” said Wendell with determination. “Anyway, we are going to be found trying. I believe this is the place,” as he drove up to a low-roofed typical looking road house with a number of cars parked outside and the strains of jazz music coming from within.
“The Green Dragon,” said Helen, looking at the great sprawling creature fashioned over the entrance. “Yes, that’s it. Shall we go in?”
“I suppose we’ll have to,” answered Wendell. “I don’t know what else to do.”
Fortunately the place was very dimly lighted and they slipped inside and into a small booth while the floor was crowded with dancing couples. The waiter raised his eyebrows when they ordered a sandwich and orangeade, but they were not concerned with his opinion. They searched the place eagerly and before long saw Nina dancing with Cary. Wendell’s eyes narrowed as he noticed how Nina clung to her partner and gazed up into his handsome, sensuous face.
After half an hour he said, “This doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. What do we do when they leave? Just get up and follow them home again?”
“I don’t know,” confessed Helen, “but I just couldn’t stay home and let her come out to a place like this without doing something about it.”
“Of course you couldn’t,” agreed Wendell. “I suppose Cary has been drinking. You haven’t any idea how I would like to march out and use my strong right arm on him,” he concluded savagely.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to save your strong right arm for the present,” said Helen, hoping that the impetuous lover wouldn’t go too far and make matters worse than they already were.
“Well, there is one fellow who is not going to spare his,” Wendell answered as two men on the dance floor began knocking each other about.
Helen looked up and then gasped, “It’s Cary! Where is Nina?”
They looked anxiously about. Waiters were attempting to separate the two men which added to the general turmoil, and Nina was nowhere to be seen. “I think she must have left,” said Wendell suddenly. “Let’s go.”
They hurried outside and looked everywhere in the vicinity of the inn, but no trace of Nina was to be seen. “You get in the car and I’ll go back inside. if we can’t find her we’ll have to start back home and look for her along the way,” said Wendell.
He was back again in a few minutes. “She isn’t there and she isn’t with Cary, so let’s start out.”
They had gone only a short distance when they saw Nina, hatless and in a filmy, light dress, running along the road. She paid no attention when the car first stopped and was about to hurry past, until Helen called to her. Then she stopped in amazement and a moment later was in the car, weeping in Helen’s arms.
“Oh, I’m so glad you came,” she sobbed in relief. “I’ve been such a fool!”
“It’s all right, dear,” Helen comforted her. “Let’s be glad that you have been only foolish. It could have been much worse.”
“I know,” said Nina gravely, drying her eyes, and then looking from Helen to Wendell she asked, “How in the world did you two happen along just now?”
“We didn’t ‘just happen,’” said Helen frankly. “We were looking for you.”
“I see,” said Nina, in a low tone. “I’m awfully sorry for all the worry I’ve caused you. I’ve been terribly blind, but it won’t happen again.”
“I’m sure it won’t,” said Helen, patting Nina’s shoulder.
As they drove up to the house Wendell said, “Could I have just a minute to say goodnight to Nina?”
“It’s rather late,” answered Helen, “but I haven’t the heart to refuse you tonight. Be sure that you don’t take more than a minute,” she called as she ran up the walk to the house, more light-hearted than she had been in months.
The rest of the school year passed rapidly for Helen. She found her work more engrossing all the time and was most delighted with the progress her students made. Just after the Christmas holidays she directed the school opera, a feat which she had long dreamed of but had never really believed she would someday accomplish.
It was a constant joy to be able to send Danny out nearly every day to play in the sunshine and to watch him grow tanned and sturdy. Nina was preparing for her marriage to Wendell the next summer and was as happy as a lark. Helen often felt that she lived again the joy of her own courtship days as she watched the glow of love in Nina’s young face.
The only flaw in her happiness was the thought of Dan. He had taken the attitude from the first that in all probability she was staying for good and nothing that she could write seemed to persuade him otherwise. His letters became less frequent and although she could detect between the lines his yearning for her and Danny, he always refrained from urging or even suggesting that they return.
Before the end of the school year Mr. Winters came and personally offered her a contract to return and teach the following year. “One with your ability,” he urged, “should put it to the broadest possible use.”
Helen did not refuse immediately. The thought had strayed into her mind, as it had occasionally done before, that perhaps Dan could be persuaded to leave the ranch and come to California to live. There were such things as ranches here, too, and if he would be content to make the change it would be possible for her to follow her musical career. Later, when she wrote and suggested it to him, he did not even answer her letter, and in a fit of pique she half determined to accept the offer for next year and see if he would not come anyway.
Of late she had been toying with another idea that looked very alluring. One of her friends, who was affiliated with a local radio broadcasting station, had told her that there was a growing demand for string music on the air and that if she would organize a small orchestra or trio she might have an excellent chance for steady employment.
Helen visited the station and then talked the matter over with her father. To her surprise he seemed to view the opportunity very coolly and advised her to consider very seriously before she entered into any contracts.
When June arrived all considerations were pushed very much into the background by the preparations for Nina’s wedding. It was to be a very beautiful affair with a large reception and several attendants and Nina insisted that Helen act as her matron of honor.
For two weeks preceding the wedding there was a round of parties that kept both sisters in a whirl of excitement. Between engagements they were putting last minute touches to the trousseau and arranging details for the wedding reception until Helen began to look back upon the simplicity of her own wedding with a respect that she had never felt before.
When all the rush and flurry was over, however, and Nina stood before her a radiant bride in her beautiful wedding gown, Helen felt that all of her efforts had been worth while. The marriage took place in a bower of greenery on the lovely secluded lawn at the rear of the house. Helen stood as one in a dream while her sister plighted her troth to her husband and repeated the words, “to stand by him in sickness or in health, for better or for worse.”
Later in the evening when the last goodbyes had been said and Nina and Wendell had departed for their wedding trip, Helen stood in her room and picked up the bouquet of lovely roses she had carried during the ceremony. Into her mind flashed a picture of the roses Dan had so gallantly presented her when she was a bride. Dear, handsome, lovable Dan! Again the words “for better or for worse” came into her mind. She sank down on her knees by the bed and buried her face in the roses. “Oh, Dan,” she cried. “My dear!”