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Chapter 6

  • Sidney Carton, thought Ruth, in pursuit of a sing-song girl! The idea was s_ncongruous that a cold little smile parted her lips. It seemed as if eac_ime her imagination reached out investingly, an invisible lash beat it back.
  • Still, she knew instinctively that all of Sidney Carton's life had not bee_ut upon the printed page. But to go courting a slave-girl, at the risk o_hysical hurt! A shudder of distaste wrinkled her shoulders.
  • She opened the window, for the night was mild, and sat on the floor with he_hin resting upon the window-sill. Even the stars were strangers. Where wa_his kindly world she had drawn so rosily in fancy? Disillusion everywhere.
  • The spinsters were not kind; they were only curious because she was odd an_ore a dress thirty years out of date. Later, when they returned home, sh_ould serve as the topic of many conversations. Everybody looked askance a_verybody else. To escape one phase of loneliness she had plunged int_nother, so vast that her courage sometimes faltered.
  • She recalled how she had stretched out her arms toward the magic blue horizon.
  • Just beyond there would be her heart's desire. And in these crowded fou_eeks, what had she learned? That all horizons were lies: that smiles an_andshakes and goodbyes and welcomes were lies: that there were really no to-
  • morrows, only a treadmill of to-days: and that out of these lies and mirage_he had plucked a bitter truth—she was alone.
  • She turned her cheek to the cold sill; and by and by the sill grew warm an_et with tears. She wanted to stay where she was; but tears were dangerous;
  • the more she wept, the weaker she would become defensively. She rose briskly,
  • turned on the light, and opened Les Misérables to the episode of the dar_orest: where Jean Valjean reaches out and takes Cosette's frightful pail fro_er chapped little hands.
  • There must be persons tender and loving in this world. There must be rea_aljeans, else how could authors write about them? Supposing some day she me_ne of these astonishing creators, who could make one cry and laugh an_orget, who could thrill one with love and anger and tenderness?
  • Most of us have witnessed carnivals. Here are all our harlequins an_olumbines of the spoken and written drama. They flash to and fro, they thril_s with expectancy. Then, presto! What a dreary lot they are when th_evellers lay aside the motley!
  • Ruth had come from a far South Sea isle. The world had not passed by but ha_one around it in a tremendous half-circle. Many things were only words,
  • sounds; she could not construct these words and sounds into objects; or, i_he did, invariably missed the mark. Her education was remarkable in that i_as overdeveloped here and underdeveloped there: the woman of thirty and th_hild of ten were always getting in each other's way. Until she had left he_sland, what she heard and what she saw were truths. And now she wa_iscovering that even Nature was something of a liar, with her mirages and he_orizons.
  • At the present moment she was living in a world of her own creation, _arnival of brave men and fair women, characters out of the tales she had s_ewly read for the first time. She could not resist enduing persons she me_ith the noble attributes of the fictional characters. We all did that in ou_outh, when first we came upon a fine story; else we were worthless meta_ndeed. So, step by step, and hurt by hurt, Ruth was learning that John Smit_as John Smith and nobody else.
  • Presently she was again in that dreadful tavern of the Thénardiers. That wa_he wonder of these stories; one lived in them. Cosette sat under the table,
  • still as a mouse, fondling her pitiful doll. Dolls. Ruth's gaze wandered fro_he printed page. She had never had a real doll. Instinct had forced her t_reate something out of rags to satisfy a mysterious craving. But a doll tha_olled its eyes and had flaxen hair! Except for the manual labour—there ha_een natives to fetch and carry—she and Cosette were sisters in loneliness.
  • Perhaps an hour passed before she laid aside the book. A bobbing lantern,
  • crossing the bridge—for she had not drawn the curtain—attracted her attention.
  • She turned off the light and approached the window. She saw a pole-chair; tha_ould be this Mr. Taber returning. Evidently Ah Cum's luck had held good.
  • As she stared her eyes grew accustomed to the night; and she discovered fiv_ersons instead of four. She remembered Taber's hat. (What was the name he ha_iven her that day?) He was walking beside the chair upon which appeared to b_ bundle of colours. She could not see clearly. All at once her heart began t_atter queerly. He was bringing the sing-song girl to the hotel!
  • The strange cortège presently vanished below the window-sill. Curiosity to se_hat a sing-song girl was like took possession of Ruth's thoughts. She fough_he inclination for a while, then surrendered. She was still fully dressed; s_ll she had to do was to pause before the mirror and give her hair a few pats.
  • Mirrors. Prior to the great adventure, her mirrors had been the still pools i_he rocks after the ebb. She had never been able to discover where her fathe_ad hidden his shaving mirror.
  • When she entered the office a strange scene was presented to her startle_aze. The sing-song girl, her fiddle broken, was beating her forehead upon th_loor and wailing: _Ai, ai! Ai, ai!_ Spurlock—or Taber, as he calle_imself—sat slumped in a chair, staring with glazed eyes at nothing,
  • absolutely uninterested in the confusion for which he was primaril_ccountable. The hotel manager was expostulating and Ah Cum was replying by _eries of expressive shrugs.
  • "What has happened?" Ruth asked.
  • "A drunken idea," said Ah Cum, taking his hands out of his sleeves. "I coul_ot make him understand."
  • "She cannot stay here," the manager declared.
  • "Why does she weep?" Ruth wanted to know.
  • Ah Cum explained. "She considers her future blasted beyond hope. Mr. Taber di_ot leave all his money in the office. He insisted on buying this girl for tw_undred mex. He now tells her that she is free, no longer a slave. She doesn'_nderstand; she believes he has taken a sudden dislike to her. Free, there i_othing left to her but the canal. Until two hours ago she was as contente_nd as happy as a linnet. If she returns to the house from which we took her,
  • her companions will laugh at her and smother her with ridicule. On this sid_f the canal she has no place to go. Her people live in Heng-Chow, in the Hu-
  • nan province. It is all very complex. It is the old story of a Westerne_eddling with an Eastern custom."
  • "But why didn't you oppose him?"
  • "I had to let him have his way, else he might not have returned safely. On_annot successfully argue with a drunken man."
  • The object of this discussion sat motionless. The voices went into his ear_ut left no impression of their import. There was, in fact, only one clea_hought in his fevered brain: he had reached the hotel without falling down.
  • The sing-song girl, seeing Ruth, extended her hands and began to chatte_apidly. Ruth made a little gesture, of infinite pity; and this was quickl_eized upon by the slant-eyed Chinese girl. She crawled over and caught at th_kirts of this white woman who understood.
  • "What is she saying to me?"
  • Ah Cum shrugged.
  • Ruth stared into the painted face, now sundrily cracked by the coursing tears.
  • "But she is saying something to me! What is it?"
  • The hotel manager, who spoke Cantonese with facility, interpreted. He kne_hat he could translate literally. "She is saying that you, a woman, wil_eadily understand the position in which she finds herself. She addresses yo_s the Flower of the Lotus, as the Resplendent Moonbeam."
  • "Just to give her her freedom?" said Ruth, turning to Ah Cum.
  • "Precisely. The chair is in the veranda. I will take her back. But of cours_he money will not be refunded.
  • "Then take her back," said the manager. "You knew better than to bring he_ere under the circumstances."
  • "Well," said Ah Cum, amiably, "when I argued against the venture, h_hreatened to go wandering about alone, I was most concerned in bringing hi_ack unhurt."
  • He then spoke authoritatively to the girl. He appeared to thunder dir_appenings if she did not obey him without further ado. He picked up th_roken fiddle and beckoned. The sing-song girl rose and meekly pattered out o_he office into the night.
  • Ruth crossed over to the dramatist of this tragicomedy and put a hand on hi_houlder.
  • "I understand," she said. Her faith in human beings revived. "You tried to d_omething that was fine, and … and civilization would not let you."
  • Spurlock turned his dull eyes and tried to focus hers. Suddenly he burst int_ild laughter; but equally as suddenly something strangled the sound in hi_hroat. He reached out a hand gropingly, sagged, and toppled out of the chai_o the floor, where he lay very still.