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Chapter 11

  • 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!"
  • "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."
  • "And money?"
  • "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?"
  • "Books."
  • "What kind?"
  • "Dickens, Hugo."
  • "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."
  • "I'm sorry."
  • 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.
  • "Go on."
  • "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!"