The Lotus Eater
By Mabel S. Harmer
Two days after Nina’s wedding Mr. Winters called for her answer and Helen gave it to him very happily and very decidedly. “I am going to act upon your suggestion,” she said smiling, “and put my ability to the greatest use. I believe that I have real ability as a wife and homemaker if I work real hard at the job.”
“And there is no finer career in all the world,” answered Mr. Winters heartily. “We shall be sorry to lose you but I am sure that you are making a wise decision.”
After he had left, Helen lay back dreamily in her chair and closed her eyes. The house seemed quiet and almost deserted after the hurry and excitement of the wedding. She was glad to have her mind made up and be at peace with herself at last. She was going back – back to her home and husband. She wondered now how she could have tarried so long, for the reasons which had seemed so urgent in the past became rather trivial in her mind now.
She had almost dropped off to sleep when she heard Danny’s voice outside mingled with some of his little playmates.
“I’ve got an uncle that’s a policeman,” said one little fellow proudly.
“That’s nothing,” chimed in another voice, “I’ve got an uncle that is a soldier. A real soldier.”
There was a pause which Danny broke by announcing in a highly superior voice, “Ho! Those are only uncles. My very own Daddy is a cowboy.”
“I’ll bet he isn’t,” one skeptic remarked.
“I’ll bet you haven’t even got a Daddy,” came a second voice.
“Yes, I have,” cried Danny, his voice rising. “I have too got a Daddy and he is a real cowboy.”
Helen waited to hear no more but ran outdoors and gathered Danny in her arms. He looked up at her as if he were half pleading with her to confirm his words and she cried, “Of course you have a Daddy, sweetheart, and we are going home to him right away. Shall we start tomorrow?”
The tears which had threatened to fill Danny’s eyes receded and he answered happily, “Yes, let’s go tomorrow and take my dog.”
Helen rather surprised her family when she announced her sudden departure, but they all took it very calmly. In fact, Ted and Marvin announced that they were glad she had finally decided to go home because they had been planning on spending the summer at the ranch and they wanted to be sure that there was a good cook around.
“It’s rather hard to lose two daughters in one week,” her father said, as he stood near the train that was to take Helen and Danny back to Wyoming, “but I guess that is what parents with pretty daughters can expect.”
“Now be honest and say that you are really glad to see me go,” laughed Helen.
“I didn’t dare say so before,” he answered with an understanding smile, “but I really am glad to see you go. A wife’s place is by her husband’s side, and I was just beginning to be a little bit worried. Especially after that radio business came up.”
“I’m afraid that I have been eating lotus,” said Helen with a whimsical smile, “but I don’t believe I was in any real danger. And I believe it will be much more fun to stay at home and hear the radio music instead of sending it out. Next time we come we’ll bring Dan with us, if we have to bring the lambs, too,” she finished brightly.
Her heart sang in rhythm with the wheels of the train as they journeyed eastward. She was leaving the land of perpetual sunshine. She was going back to long, hard winters, to an ugly ranch house without any modern conveniences and perhaps to many hours of loneliness again, but it didn’t matter. She was going home and she was going to the man she loved.
She had made up her mind to go so quickly that there had not been time to write to Dan and telegraph delivery was more or less uncertain at the ranch, so she decided to go unannounced and take him by surprise. There was a chance that he wouldn’t be there at all, for he was often away with the cattle or the sheep, but she would have to risk that now.
There was no one at the train to take passengers out to Green Valley, so she searched around Junction City until she found a man with a car who would make the trip. She and Danny sat in the front seat with the driver and the rear seat was piled high with their luggage, including the precious radio. She had bought a very fine one, explaining that “it was all her concert and theatre money for the next five years rolled into one.”
Danny hadn’t forgotten for one minute that he had promised to bring home a dog and the little woolly animal had been hugged tightly in his arms during the entire trip. It was soiled and very much the worse for wear by now, but Danny was sure that his Daddy would prize it just as highly as he did.
The tender green of the mountain foliage caught at the poetic in Helen’s heart as it had always done, and she found herself singing softly as they rolled along over the canyon road. Danny was in transports of joy and kept demanding that each turn in the road be the last one before they reach home. Finally they did emerge from the canyon and looked down upon the peaceful little valley below them. “Look, Danny,” said Helen, pointing off into the distance, “over there is our very own home.”
Her heart beat with mixed emotions as they covered each mile toward the old ranch house. Dan’s letters had been brief and not too cordial the last few months. Suppose he no longer wanted her back? Such a possibility had not entered her mind before and she wondered now why she had felt so very sure of her welcome. She had been able, at least until just lately, to justify her long absence to her own satisfaction, but she had always known that Dan did not share quite the same viewpoint.
She had been hoping that Dan would be home. Now she was not quite so sure that she would be very sorry if he were away long enough for her to get her bearings, at least. They drove finally into the yard and glancing up, she saw smoke coming out of the chimney. So he was there, after all!
She paid the driver and gave him instructions for unloading her luggage, then clasping Danny by the hand, she made her way into the house. She opened the kitchen door and stepped inside. It was spotlessly clean and looked very cozy and homelike, all of which rather surprised her. The old range had a fire burning in it and the various pans on the stove with their contents bubbling merrily within gave promise of a savory dinner. Her pretty dimity curtains had been freshly laundered and a scarlet geranium bloomed between them upon each window sill.
There was no one in the kitchen, but Helen heard someone moving about in the front room and she stood clutching Danny’s hand tightly as the steps came nearer. The door opened and Helen was startled to see, instead of the fall form of her husband, a young and pretty woman.
The two women stared at each other in surprise. Wild and incoherent thoughts raced through Helen’s mind, but she said nothing. Finally the other woman smiled and said, “How do you do?” Then as a light seemed to dawn she took a step nearer and asked, “Are you Helen?”
Helen nodded and sank into a nearby chair. If there were any shocks to bear she felt that she could take them better sitting down.
“I am Rowena,” continued the other woman. “Orval’s wife, you know.”
“Oh,” gasped Helen in quick relief, “I thought –” she stopped in confusion. It would be just as well, perhaps, not to say that she thought Dan might have grown weary of her long absence and divorced her. She smiled at her newly acquired sister-in-law and went on, “Dan told me that his brother had married but he didn’t tell me your name. I’m so glad.”
“We live in the Sperry house just down the road,” Rowena continued. “I have been coming over each day to clean things up a bit for Dan. I suppose he won’t need me any more now.”
Helen went over and put an arm around her. “He may not, but I shall. You’ll come over often, won’t you?”
“Thank you. I’d love to. It does get rather lonesome at times when Orval is away with the sheep. I’ll run along now. Dan is just out in the field, he’ll be here any minute.”
After Rowena had gone, Helen removed hers and Danny’s light wraps and set two more places on the table. Danny was hungry so she put him up to the table and gave him his supper. While he was eating she ran through the rest of the house. It was much the same as when she had left it. It was still an old weather-beaten ranch house brightened up somewhat with gay curtains and paint, but it was her home and she loved it.
She ran back to the kitchen when she heard the door close after Dan. He was standing just inside the door looking at Danny as if he were a dream that might disappear if he spoke. Helen gave a little cry and ran into his arms. She clung to him for a moment and then Dan held her away at arm’s length.
“Is it for good, this time?” he asked in a low tense voice.
“Oh, my dear!” she cried, stung by the hurt in his voice.
“I couldn’t stand to lose you again,” he said simply.
Helen was once more close in his arms. “You’ll never lose me,” she said softly. “I love you, Dan.”
“I’m here, too, said a small voice at Dan’s knees, and reaching down he lifted his sturdy son up between them. “So you are,” nodded Dan happily. “We’re all here, together.”