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Chapter 13

  • 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.
  • "In Canton."
  • "How long have I been in bed?"
  • "A week."
  • "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?"
  • "Yes."
  • "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."
  • "Nothing else?"
  • "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?"
  • "Yes."
  • "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."
  • "Puppy-love."
  • "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."
  • "What?"
  • "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.