One day Ruth caught the patient's eyes following her about; but there was n_uestion in the gaze, no interest; so she pretended not to notice.
"Where am I?" asked Spurlock.
"How long have I been in bed?"
"My coat, please."
"It is folded under your pillow."
"Did I ask for it?"
"Yes. But perhaps you don't know; there was nothing in the pockets. You wer_robably robbed in Hong-Kong."
"Nothing in the pockets."
"You see, we didn't know but you might die; and so we had to search you_elongings for the address of your people."
"I have no people—anybody who would care."
She kindled with sympathy. He was all alone, too. Nobody who cared.
Ruth was inflammable; she would always be flaring up swiftly, in pity, i_enderness, in anger; she would always be answering impulses, without seekin_o weigh or to analyse them. She was emerging from the primordial as Spurloc_as declining toward it. She was on the rim of civilization, entering, a_purlock was on the rim, preparing to make his exit. Two souls in travail; on_nspired by fresh hopes, the other, by fresh despairs. Both of them would b_ommitting novel and unforgettable acts.
"How long shall I be here?" he asked.
"That depends upon you. Not very long, if you want to get well."
"Are you a nurse?"
"Yes. Don't ask any more questions. Wait a little; rest."
There was a pause. Ruth flashed in and out of the sunshine; and he took not_f the radiant nimbus above her head each time the sunshine touched her hair.
"Haven't I seen you somewhere before?"
"The first day you came. Don't you remember? There were four of us, and w_ent touring in the city."
"As in a dream." There was another pause. "Was I out of my head?"
"What did I say?"
"Only one word," she said, offering her first white lie.
"What was it?" He was insistent.
"You repeated the word ' _Fool_ ' over and over."
"No. Now, no more questions, or I shall be forced to leave the room."
"I promise to ask no more."
"Would you like to have me read to you?"
He did not answer. So she took up Stevenson and began to read aloud. She rea_eautifully because the fixed form of the poem signified nothing. She wen_rom period to period exactly as she would have read prose; so that sense an_usic were equally balanced. She read for half an hour, then closed the boo_ecause Spurlock appeared to have fallen asleep. But he was wide awake.
"What poet was that?"
"Stevenson." Ruth had read from page to page in "The Child's Garden of Verse,"
generally unfamiliar to the admirers of Stevenson. Of course Ruth was no_ware that in this same volume there were lyrics known the world over.
Immediately Spurlock began to chant one of these.
> "'Under the wide and starry sky, > Dig the grave and let me lie.
> Glad did I live and gladly die, > And I laid me down with a will.'"
> "'This be the verse you grave for me: > Here he lies where he longed to be; > Home is the sailor, home from the sea.
> And the hunter home from the hill.'"
"What is that?" she asked. Something in his tone pinched her heart. "Did yo_rite it?"
"No. You will find it somewhere in that book. Ah, if I had written that!"
"Don't you want to live?"
"I don't know; I really don't know."
"But you are young!" It was a protest, almost vehement. She remembered th_octor's warning that the real battle would begin when the patient recovere_onsciousness. "You have all the world before you."
"Rather behind me;" and he spoke no more that morning.
Throughout the afternoon, while the doctor was giving her the first lesson ou_f his profound knowledge of life, her interest would break away continually, despite her honest efforts to pin it down to the facts so patiently elucidate_or her. Recurrently she heard: "I don't know; I really don't know." It wa_uriously like the intermittent murmur of the surf, those weird Sundays, whe_er father paused for breath to launch additional damnation for those wh_isobeyed the Word. "I don't know; I really don't know."
Her ear caught much of the lesson, and many things she stored away; but ofte_hat she heard was sound without sense. Still, her face never betrayed thi_istraction. And what was singular she did not recount to the doctor tha_orning's adventure. Why? If she had put the query to herself, she could no_ave answered it. It was in no sense confessional; it was a state of mind i_he patient the doctor had already anticipated. Yet she held her tongue.
As for the doctor, he found a pleasure in this service that would have puzzle_im had he paused to analyse it. There was scant social life on the Sha-mie_side from masculine foregatherings, little that interested him. He took hi_ocial pleasures once a year in Hong-Kong, after Easter. He saw, without an_articular regret, that this year he would have to forego the junket; bu_here would be ample compensation in the study of these queer youngsters.
Besides, by the time they were off his hands, old McClintock would be droppin_n to have his liver renovated.
All at once he recollected the fact that McClintock's copra plantation wa_own that way, somewhere in the South Seas; had an island of his own. Perhap_e had heard of this Enschede. Mac—the old gossip—knew about everything goin_n in that part of the world; and if Enschede was anything up to the pictur_he girl had drawn, McClintock would have heard of him, naturally. He migh_olve the riddle. All of which proves that the doctor also had his moments o_istraction, with this difference: he was not distracted from his subjec_atter.
"So endeth the first lesson," he said. "Suppose we go and have tea? I'd lik_o take you to a teahouse I know, but we'll go to the Victoria instead. I mus_ractise what I preach."
"I should be unafraid to go anywhere with you."
"Lord, that's just the lesson I've been expounding! It isn't a question o_ear; it's one of propriety."
"I'll never understand."
"You don't have to. I'll tell you what. I'll write out certain rules o_onduct, and then you'll never be in doubt."
She laughed; and it was pleasant laughter in his ears. If only this child wer_is: what good times they would have together! The thought passed on, but i_eft a little ache in his heart.
"Why do you laugh?" he asked.
"All that you have been telling me, our old Kanaka cook summed up in _hrase."
"What was it?"
"Never glance sideways at a man.".
"The whole thing in a nutshell!"
"Are there no men a woman may trust absolutely?"
"Hang it, that isn't it. Of course there are, millions of them. It's publi_pinion. We all have to kow-tow to that."
"Who made such a law?"
"This world is governed by minorities—in politics, in religion, in society.
Majorities, right or wrong, dare not revolt. Footprints, and we have to toddl_long in them, willy-nilly; and those who have the courage to step outside th_ppointed path are called pariahs!"
"I'm afraid I shall not like this world very much. It is putting all my dream_ut of joint."
"Never let the unknown edge in upon your courage. The world is like a pepper_orse. If he senses fear in the touch of your hand, he'll give you trouble."
"It's all so big and aloof. It isn't friendly as I thought it would be. _on't know; I really don't know," she found herself repeating.
He drew her away from this thought. "I read those stories."
"Are they good?"
"He can write; but he hasn't found anything real to write about. He hasn'_ound himself, as they say. He's rewriting Poe and De Maupassant; and tha_tuff was good only when Poe and De Maupassant wrote it."
"How do you spell the last name?"
He spelt it. He wasn't sure, but he thought he saw a faint shudder stir he_houlders. "Not the sort of stories young ladies should read. Poe is al_ight, if you don't mind nightmares. But De Maupassant—sheer off! Stick t_ickens and Thackeray and Hugo. Before you go I'll give you a list of books t_ead."
"There are bad stories, then, just as there are bad people?"
"Yes. Sewn on that button yet?"
"I've been afraid to take the coat from under the pillow."
"Funny, about that coat. You told him there wasn't anything in the pockets?"
"How did he take it?"
"He did not seem to care."
"There you are, just as I said. We've got to get him to care. We've got t_ake him take up the harp of life and go twanging it again. That's the job.
He's young and sound. Of course, there'll be a few kinks to straighten out.
He's passed through some rough mental torture. But one of these day_verything will click back into place. Great sport, eh? To haul them back fro_he ragged edge. Wouldn't it be fun to see his name on a book-cover some day?
He'll go strutting up and down without ever dreaming he owed the whole shot t_s. That would be fun, eh?"
"I wonder if you know how kind you are? You are like somebody out of a book."
"There, now! You mustn't get mixed. You mustn't go by what you read so much a_y what you see and hear. You must remember, you've just begun to read; yo_aven't any comparisons. You mustn't go dressing up Tom, Dick, and Harry i_enry Esmond's ruffles. What you want to do is to imagine every woman a Beck_harp and every man a Rawdon Crawley."
"I know what is good," she replied.
"Yes; but what is good isn't always proper. And so, here we are, right bac_rom where we started. But no more of that. Let's talk of this chap. There'_ood stuff in him, if one could find the way to dig it out. Bu_athologically, he is still on the edge. Unless we can get some optimism int_im, he'll probably start this all over again when he gets on his feet. That'_he way it goes. But between us, we'll have him writing books some day. That'_ne of the troubles with young folks: they take themselves so seriously. H_robably imagines himself to be a thousand times worse off than he actuall_s. Youth finds it pleasant sometimes to be melancholy. Disappointed puppy- love, and all that."
"A young fellow who thinks he's in love, when he has only been reading to_uch."
"Do girls have puppy-love?"
"Land sakes, yes! On the average they are worse than the boys. A boy ca_orget his amatory troubles playing baseball; but a girl can't find an_articular distraction in doing fancy work. Do you know, I envy you. All th_orld before you, all the ologies. What an adventure! Of course, you'll bar_our shins here and there and hit your funnybone; but the newness o_verything will be something of a compensation. All right. Let's get one ide_nto our heads. We are going to have this chap writing books one of thes_ays."
Ideas are never born; they are suggested; they are planted seeds. Ruth did no_eply, but stared past the doctor, her eyes misty. The doctor had sown a seed, carelessly. All that he had sown that afternoon with such infinite care was a_othing compared to this seed, cast without forethought. Ruth's mind wa_ertile soil; for a long time to come it would be something of a hothouse: green things would spring up and blossom overnight. Already the seed of _ender dream was stirring. The hour for which, presumably, she had bee_reated was drawing nigh. For in life there is but one hour: an epic or a_dyll: all other hours lead up to and down from it.
"By the way," said the doctor, as he sat down in the dining room of th_ictoria and ordered tea, "I've been thinking it over."
"We'll put those stories back into the trunk and never speak of them to him."
"But why not?"
The doctor dallied with his teaspoon. Something about the girl had suggeste_n idea. It would have been the right idea, had Ruth been other than what sh_as. First-off, he had decided not to tell her what he had found at the botto_f that manila envelope. Now it occurred to him that to show her the seale_etter would be a better way. Impressionable, lonely, a deal beyond hi_nalytical reach, the girl might let her sympathies go beyond those of th_urse. She would be enduing this chap with attributes he did not possess, clothing him in fictional ruffles. To disillusion her, forthwith.
"I'll tell you why," he said. "At the bottom of that big envelope I found thi_ne."
He passed it over; and Ruth read:
To be opened in case of my death and the letter inside forwarded to th_ddress thereon. All my personal effects to be left in charge of the neares_merican Consulate.