The second call energized her into action. She dropped the manuscripts an_wiftly brought the coat to him, noting that a button hung loose. Later, sh_ould sew it on.
"What is it you want?" she asked, as she held out the coat.
"Fold it … under the pillow."
This she did carefully, but inwardly commenting that he was still in the real_f strange fancies. Wanting his coat, when he must have known that the pocket_ere empty! But the effort to talk had cost him something. The performanc_ver, he relaxed and closed his eyes. Even as she watched, the sweat o_eakness began to form on his forehead and under the nether lip. She wet som_bsorbent cotton with alcohol and refreshed his face and neck. This done, sh_aited at the side of the bed; but he gave no sign that he was conscious o_er nearness.
The poor boy, wanting his empty coat! The incident, however, caused her t_eview the recent events. It was now evident that he had not been normal tha_irst day. Perhaps he had had money in the coat, back in Hong-Kong, and ha_een robbed without knowing it. Perhaps these few words were the first rea_onscious words he had uttered in days. His letter of credit; probably tha_as it; and, observing the strangeness of the room he was in, his firs_oncern on returning to consciousness would naturally relate to his letter o_redit. How would he act when he learned that it had vanished?
She gathered up the manuscripts and restored them to the envelope. This sh_ut into the trunk. She noticed that this trunk was not littered with hote_abels. These little squares of coloured paper interested her mightily—hote_abels. She was for ever scanning luggage and finding her way about the world, via these miniature pictures. London, Paris, Rome! There were no hotel label_n the patient's trunk, but there were ship labels; and by these she was abl_o reconstruct the journey: from New York to Naples, thence to Alexandria; from Port Saïd to Colombo; from Colombo to Bombay; from Calcutta to Rangoon, thence down to Singapore; from Singapore to Hong-Kong. The great worl_utside!
She stood motionless beside the trunk, deep in speculation; and thus th_octor found her.
"Well?" he whispered.
"I believe he is conscious," she answered. "He just asked for his coat, whic_e wanted under his pillow."
"Conscious; well, that's good news. He'll be able to help us a little now. _ope that some day he'll understand how much he owes you."
"Oh, that!" she said, with a deprecating gesture.
"Miss Enschede, you're seven kinds of a brick!"
He chuckled. "I forgot. That's slang, meaning you're splendid."
"I begin to see that I shall have to learn English all over again."
"You have always spoken it?"
"Yes; except for some native. I wasn't taught that; I simply fell into it fro_ontact."
"I see. So he's come around, then? That's fine."
He approached the bed and laid his palm on the patient's forehead, and nodded.
Then he took the pulse.
"He will pull through?"
"Positively. But the big job for you is yet to come. When he begins to notic_hings, I want you to trap his interest, to amuse him, keep his thoughts fro_everting to his misfortunes."
"Then he has been unfortunate?"
"That's patent enough. He's had a hard knock somewhere; and until he is stron_nough to walk, we must keep his interest away from that thought. After that, we'll go our several ways."
"What makes you think he has had a hard knock?"
"I'm a doctor, young lady."
"You're fine, too. I doubt if you will receive anything for your trouble."
"Oh, yes I will. The satisfaction of cheating Death again. You've been a grea_elp these five days; for he had to have attendance constantly, and neither W_or I could have given that. And yet, when you offered to help, it was what i_o come that I had in mind."
"To make him forget the knock?"
"Precisely. I'm going to be frank; we must have a clear understanding. Can yo_fford to give this time? There are your own affairs to think of."
"There's no hurry."
"I'll have plenty, if I'm careful."
"It has done me a whole lot of good to meet you. Over here a man quickly lose_aith, and I find myself back on solid ground once more. Is there anythin_ou'd like?"
"I'll bring you an armful this afternoon. I've a lot of old magazines, too.
There are a thousand questions I'd like to ask you, but I sha'n't ask them."
"Ask them, all of them, and I will gladly answer. I mystify you; I can se_hat. Well, whenever you say, I promise to do away with the mystery."
"All right. I'll call for you this afternoon when Wu is on. I'll show you th_ha-mien; and we can talk all we want."
"I was never going to tell anybody," she added. "But you are a good man, an_ou'll understand. I believed I was strong enough to go on in silence; but I'_uman like everybody else. To tell someone who is kind and who wil_nderstand!"
"There, there!" he said. There was a hint of tears in her voice. "That's al_ight. We'll get together this afternoon; and you can pretend that I am you_ather."
"No! I have run away from my father. I shall never go back to him; never, never!"
Distressed, embarrassed beyond measure by this unexpected tragic revelation, the doctor puttered about among the bottles on the stand.
"We're forgetting," he said. "We mustn't disturb the patient. I'll call fo_ou after lunch."
She began to prepare the room for Wu's coming, while the doctor wen_ownstairs. As he was leaving the hotel, Ah Cum stepped up to his side.
"How is Mr. Taber?"
"Regained consciousness this morning."
Ah Cum nodded. "That is good."
"You are interested?"
"In a way, naturally. We are both graduates of Yale."
"Ah! Did he tell you anything about himself?"
"Aside from that, no. When will he be up?"
"That depends. Perhaps in two or three weeks. Did he talk a little when yo_ook him into the city?"
"No. He appeared to be strangely uncommunicative, though I tried to draw hi_ut. He spoke only when he saw the sing-song girl he wanted to buy."
"Why didn't you head him off, explain that it couldn't be done by a whit_an?"
Ah Cum shrugged. "You are a physician; you know the vagaries of men in liquor.
He was a stranger. I did not know how he would act if I obstructed him."
"We found all his pockets empty."
"Then they were empty when he left," replied Ah Cum, with dignity.
"I was only commenting. Did he act to you that day as if he knew what he wa_oing?"
"Not all of the time."
"A queer case;" and the doctor passed on.
Ah Cum made a movement as though to follow, but reconsidered. The word of _hinaman; he had given it, so he must abide. There was now no honest way o_arning Taber that the net had been drawn. Of course, it was ridiculous, thi_nclination to assist the fugitive, based as it was upon an intangibl_niversity idea. And yet, mulling it over, he began to understand why th_hite man was so powerful in the world: he was taught loyalty and fair play i_is schools, and he carried this spirit the world which his forebears ha_onquered.
Suddenly Ah Cum laughed aloud. He, a Chinaman, troubling himself ove_ccidental ideas! With his hands in his sleeves, he proceeded on his way.
* * * * *
Ruth and the doctor returned to the hotel at four. Both carried packages o_ooks and magazines. There was an air of repressed gaiety in her actions: th_ense of freedom had returned; her heart was empty again. The burden o_ecision had been transferred.
And because he knew it was a burden, there was no gaiety upon the doctor'_ace; neither was there speech on his tongue. He knew not how to act, urged a_e was in two directions. It would be useless to tell her to go back, eve_eartless; and yet he could not advise her to go on, blindly, not knowin_hether her aunt was dead or alive. He was also aware that all his argument_ould shatter themselves against her resolutions. There was a strange qualit_f steel in this pretty creature. He understood now that it was a part of he_nheritance. The father would be all steel. One point in her narrative stoo_ut beyond all others. To an unthinking mind the episode would be ordinary, trivial; but to the doctor, who had had plenty of time to think during hi_ojourn in China, it was basic of the child's unhappiness. A dozen words, an_e saw Enschede as clearly as though he stood hard by in the flesh.
To preach a fine sermon every Sunday so that he would lose neither the art no_he impulse; and this child, in secret rebellion, taking it down in long han_uring odd hours in the week! Preaching grandiloquently before a few scor_atives who understood little beyond the gestures, for the single purpose o_arding off disintegration! It reminded the doctor of a stubborn retreat; fro_arricade to barricade, grimly fighting to keep the enemy at bay, tha_nsidious enemy of the white man in the South Seas—inertia.
The drunken beachcombers; the one-sided education; the utter loneliness of _hite child without playfellows, human or animal, without fairy stories, wh_or days was left alone while the father visited neighbouring islands, thes_ictures sank far below their actual importance. He would always see th_icture of the huge, raw-boned Dutchman, haranguing and thundering the word o_od into the dull ears of South Sea Islanders, who, an hour later, would b_arrying fruit penitently to their wooden images.
He now understood her interest in Taber, as he called himself: habit, a twice- told tale. A beachcomber in embryo, and she had lent a hand through habit a_uch as through pity. The grim mockery of it!—those South Sea loafers, takin_dvantage of Enschede's Christianity and imposing upon him, accepting hi_oney and medicines and laughing behind his back! No doubt they made the nam_ byword and a subject for ribald jest in the waterfront bars. And this clear- visioned child had comprehended that only half the rogues were really ill. Bu_nschede took them as they came, without question. Charity for the ragtag an_he bobtail of the Seven Seas, and none for his own flesh and blood.
This started a thought moving. There must be something behind the missioner'_ctions, something of which the girl knew nothing nor suspected. It would no_e possible otherwise to live in daily contact with this level-eyed, lovel_irl without loving her. Something with iron resolve the father had kep_idden all these years in the lonely citadel of his heart. Teaching the wor_f God to the recent cannibal, caring for the sick, storming the stronghold_f the plague, adding his own private income to the pittance allowed him b_he Society, and never seeing the angel that walked at his side! Something th_irl knew nothing about; else Enschede was unbelievable.
It now came to him with an added thrill how well she had told her story; simply and directly, no skipping, no wandering hither and yon: from the firs_our she could remember, to the night she had fled in the proa, a clea_ustained narrative. And through it all, like a golden thread on a piece o_apestry, weaving in and out of the patterns, the unspoken longing for love.
"Well," she said, as they reached the hotel portal, "what is your advice?"
"Would you follow it?"
"Probably not. Still, I am curious."
"I do not say that what you have done is wrong in any sense. I do not blam_ou for the act. There are human limitations, and no doubt you reached yours.
For all that, it is folly. If you knew your aunt were alive, if she expecte_ou, that would be different. But to plunge blindly into the unknown!"
"I had to! I had to!"
She had told him only the first part of her story. She wondered if the secon_art would overcome his objections? Several times the words had rushed to he_ongue, to find her tongue paralysed. To a woman she might have confided; bu_o this man, kindly as he was, it was unthinkable. How could she tell him o_he evil that drew her and drew her, as a needle to the magnet?—th_ascinating evil that even now, escaped as it was, went on distilling it_oison in her mind?
"Yes, yes!" said the doctor. "But if you do not find this aunt, what will yo_o? What can you do to protect yourself against hunger?"
"I'll find something."
"But warn the aunt, prepare her, if she lives."
"And have her warn my father! No. If I surprised her, if I saw her alone, _ight make her understand."
He shook his head. "There's only one way out of the muddle, that I can see."
"And what is that?"
"I have relatives not far from Hartford. I may prevail upon them to take yo_n until you are full-fledged, providing you do not find this aunt. You sa_ou have twenty-four hundred in your letter of credit. It will not cost yo_ore than six hundred to reach your destination. The pearls were reall_ours?"
"They were left to me by my mother. I sometimes laid away my father's clothe_n his trunk. I saw the metal box a hundred times, but I never thought o_pening it until the day I fled. I never even burrowed down into the trunk. _ad no curiosity of that kind. I wanted something _alive_." She paused.
"Well, suddenly I knew that I must see the inside of that box, which had _adlock. I wrenched this off, and in an envelope addressed to me in faded ink, I found the locket and the pearls. It is queer how ideas pop into one's head.
Instantly I knew that I was going to run away that night before he returne_rom the neighbouring island. At the bottom of the trunk I found two of m_other's dresses. I packed them with the other few things I owned. Morgan th_rader did not haggle over the pearls, but gave me at once what he judged _air price. You will wonder why he did not hold the pearls until Fathe_eturned. I didn't understand then, but I do now. It was partly to pay _rudge he had against father."
"And partly what else?"
"I shall never tell anybody that."
"I don't know," said the doctor, dubiously. "You're only twenty—not legally o_ge."
"I am here in Canton," she replied, simply.
"Very well. I'll cable to-night, and in a few days we'll have some news. I'm _raybeard, an old bachelor; so I am accorded certain privileges. Sometimes _m frightfully busy; and then there will be periods of dullness. I have a fe_egular patients, and I take care of them in the morning. Every afternoon, from now on, I will teach you a little about life—I mean the worldly points o_iew you're likely to meet. You are queerly educated; and it strikes me tha_our father had some definite purpose in thus educating you. I'll try to fil_n the gaps."
The girl's eyes filled. "I wonder if you will understand what this kindnes_eans to me? I am so terribly wise—and so wofully ignorant!"