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Title: The Ragged Edge
Author: MacGrath, Harold, 1871-1932
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Ragged Edge" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: _Distinctive Pictures Photoplay. The Ragged Edge_.
MIMI PALMERI AS RUTH EMSCHEDE, ALFRED LUNT AS HOWARD SPURLOCK.]


THE RAGGED EDGE


BY
HAROLD MACGRATH


AUTHOR OF
DRUMS OF JEOPARDY, ETC.



ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES
FROM THE PHOTOPLAY
DISTINCTIVE PICTURES CORPORATION


NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS



THE RAGGED EDGE



CHAPTER I


The Master is inordinately fond of young fools. That is why they
are permitted to rush in where angels fear to tread--and survive
their daring! This supreme protection, this unwritten warranty to
disregard all laws, occult or apparent, divine or earthly, may be
attributed to the fact that none but young fools dream gloriously.
For such of us as pretend to be wise--and we are but fools in a
lesser degree--we know that humanity moves onward only by the
impellant of fine dreams. Sometimes these dreams are simple and
tender; sometimes they are magnificent.

With what airs we human atoms invest ourselves! What ridiculous
fancies of our importance! We believe we have destinies, when we
have only destinations: that we are something immortal, when each
of us is in truth only the repository of a dream. The dream flowers
and is harvested, and we are left by the wayside, having served our
singular purpose in the scheme of progress: as the orange is tossed
aside when sucked of its ruddy juice.

We middle-aged fools and we old fools can no longer dream. We have
only those phantoms called memories, which are the husks of dreams.
Disillusion stands in one doorway of our house and Mockery in the
other.

This is a tale of two young fools.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the daytime the streets of the ancient city of Canton are yet
filled with the original confusion--human beings in quest of food.
There is turmoil, shouts, cries, jostlings, milling congestions
that suddenly break and flow in opposite directions.

It was a gray day in the spring of 1910. A tourist caravan of four
pole-chairs jogged along a narrow street. It had rained during the
night, and the patch-work pavement was greasy with mud. From a
bi-secting street came shouting and music. At a sign from Ah Cum,
official custodian of the sightseers, the pole-chair coolies
pressed toward the left and halted.

A wedding procession turned the corner. All the world over a
wedding procession arouses laughter and derision in the bystanders.
Even the children jeer. It may be instinctive; it may be that
children vaguely realize that at the end of all wedding journeys is
disillusion.

The girl in the forward chair raised herself a little, the better
to see the gorgeous blue palanquin of the dimly visible bride.

"What a wonderful colour!" she exclaimed.

"Kingfisher feathers," said Ah Cum. "It is an ordinary wedding," he
added; "some shopkeeper's daughter. Probably she was married years
ago and is now merely on the way to her husband's house. The
palanquin is hired and so is the procession. Quite ordinary."

The air in the narrow street, which was not eight feet wide,
swarmed with smells impossible to define; but all at once the
pleasantly pungent odour of Chinese incense drifted across the
girl's face, and gratefully she quickened her inhalations.

In her ears there was a medley of sound: wailing music, rumbling
tom-toms and sputtering firecrackers. She had never before heard
the noise of firecrackers, and in the beginning the sputtering
racket caused her to wince. Presently the odour of burnt powder
mingled agreeably with that of the incense.

She was conscious of a ceaseless undercurrent of sound--the
guttural Chinese tongue. She foraged about in her mind for some
satisfying equivalent which would express in English this gurgling
drone the Chinese called a language. At length she hit upon it:
bubbling water. Her eyebrows, pulled down by the stress of thought,
now resumed their normal arches; and pleased with her discovery,
she smiled.

To Ah Cum, who was watching her covertly, the smile was like a bit
of unexpected sunshine. What with these converging roofs that shut
out all but a hand's breadth of the sky, sunshine was rare at this
point. If it came at all, it was as fleeting as the girl's smile.

The wedding procession passed on, and the cynical rabble poured in
behind. The pole-chair caravan resumed its journey.

The girl wished that she had come afoot, despite the knowledge that
she would have suffered many inconveniences, accidental and
intentional jostling, insolence and ribald jest. The Cantonese,
excepting in the shops where he expects profit, always resents the
intrusion of the _fan-quei_--foreign devil. The chair was torture.
It hung from the centre of a stout pole, each end of which rested
upon the calloused shoulder of a coolie; an ordinary Occidental
chair with a foot-rest. The coolies proceeded at a swinging,
mincing trot, which gave to the suspended seat a dancing action
similar to that of a suddenly agitated hanging-spring of a
birdcage. It was impossible to meet the motion bodily.

Her shoulders began to ache. Her head felt absurdly like one of
those noddling manikins in the Hong-Kong curio-shops. Jiggle-joggle,
jiggle-joggle...! For each pause she was grateful. Whenever Ah Cum
(whose normal stride was sufficient to keep him at the side of her
chair) pointed out something of interest, she had to strain the
cords in her neck to focus her glance upon the object. Supposing the
wire should break and her head tumble off her shoulders into the
street? The whimsey caused another smile to ripple across her lips.

This amazing world she had set forth to discover! Yesterday at this
time she had had no thought in her head about Canton. America, the
land of rosy apples and snowstorms, beckoned, and she wanted to fly
thitherward. Yet, here she was, in the ancient Chinese city,
weaving in and out of the narrow streets some scarcely wide enough
for two men to walk abreast, streets that boiled and eddied with
yellow human beings, who worshipped strange gods, ate strange
foods, and diffused strange suffocating smells. These were less
like streets than labyrinths, hewn through an eternal twilight. It
was only when they came into a square that daylight had a positive
quality.

So many things she saw that her interest stumbled rather than
leaped from object to object. Rows of roasted duck, brilliantly
varnished; luscious vegetables, which she had been warned against;
baskets of melon seed and water-chestnuts; men working in teak and
blackwood; fan makers and jade cutters; eggs preserved in what
appeared to her as petrified muck; bird's nests and shark fins. She
glimpsed Chinese penury when she entered a square given over to the
fishmongers. Carp, tench, and roach were so divided that even the
fins, heads and fleshless spines were sold. There were doorways to
peer into, dim cluttered holes with shadowy forms moving about,
potters and rug-weavers.

Through one doorway she saw a grave Chinaman standing on a
stage-like platform. He wore a long coat, beautifully flowered, and
a hat with a turned up brim. Balanced on his nose were enormous
tortoise-shell spectacles. A ragged gray moustache drooped from the
corners of his mouth and a ragged wisp of whisker hung from his
chin. She was informed by Ah Cum that the Chinaman was one of the
_literati_ and that he was expounding the deathless philosophy of
Confucius, which, summed up, signified that the end of all
philosophy is Nothing.

Through yet another doorway she observed an ancient silk brocade
loom. Ah Cum halted the caravan and indicated that they might step
within and watch. On a stool eight feet high sat a small boy in a
faded blue cotton, his face like that of young Buddha. He held in
his hands many threads. From time to time the man below would
shout, and the boy would let the threads go with the snap of a
harpist, only to recover them instantly. There was a strip of old
rose brocade in the making that set an ache in the girl's heart for
the want of it.

The girl wondered what effect the information would have upon Ah
Cum if she told him that until a month ago she had never seen a
city, she had never seen a telephone, a railway train, an
automobile, a lift, a paved street. She was almost tempted to tell
him, if only to see the cracks of surprise and incredulity break
the immobility of his yellow countenance.

But no; she must step warily. Curiosity held her by one hand,
urging her to recklessness, and caution held her by the other. Her
safety lay in pretense--that what she saw was as a tale twice told.

A phase of mental activity that men called courage: to summon at
will this energy which barred the ingress of the long cold fingers
of fear, which cleared the throat of stuffiness and kept the glance
level and ever forward. She possessed it, astonishing fact! She had
summoned this energy so continuously during the past four weeks
that now it was abiding; she knew that it would always be with her,
on guard. And immeasurable was the calm evolved from this
knowledge.

The light touch of Ah Cum's hand upon her arm broke the thread of
retrospective thought; and her gray eyes began to register again
the things she saw.

"Jade," said Ah Cum.

She turned away from the doorway of the silk loom to observe. Pole
coolies came joggling along with bobbing blocks of jade--white
jade, splashed and veined with translucent emerald green.

"On the way to the cutters," said Ah Cum. "But we must be getting
along if we are to lunch in the tower of the water-clock."

As if an order had come to her somewhere out of space, the girl
glanced sideways at the other young fool.

So far she had not heard the sound of his voice. The tail-ender of
this little caravan, he had been rather out of it. But he had shown
no desire for information, no curiosity. Whenever they stepped from
the chairs, he stepped down. If they entered a shop, he paused by
the doorway, as if waiting for the journey to be resumed.

Young, not much older than she was: she was twenty and he was
possibly twenty-four. She liked his face; it had on it the
suggestion of gentleness, of fineness. She was lamentably without
comparisons; such few young men as she had seen--white men--had
been on the beach, pitiful and terrible objects.

The word _handsome_ was a little beyond her grasp. She could not
apply it in this instance because she was not sure the application
would be correct. Perhaps what urged her interest in the young
man's direction was the dead whiteness of his face, the puffed
eyelids and the bloodshot whites. She knew the significance: the
red corpuscle was being burnt out by the fires of alcohol. Was he,
too, on the way to the beach? What a pity! All alone, and none to
warn him of the abject wretchedness at the end of Drink.

Only the night before, in the dining room of the Hong-Kong Hotel,
she had watched him empty glass after glass of whisky, and shudder
and shudder. He did not like it. Why, then, did he touch it?

As he climbed heavily into his chair, she was able to note the
little beads of sweat under the cracked nether lip. He was in
misery; he was paying for last night's debauch. His clothes were
smartly pressed, his linen white, his jaws cleanly shaven; but the
day would come when he would grow indifferent to bodily
cleanliness. What a pity!

For all her ignorance of material things--the human inventions
which served the physical comforts of man--how much she knew about
man himself! She had seen him bereft of all those spiritual props
which permit man to walk on two feet instead of four--broken,
without resilience. And now she was witnessing or observing the
complicated machinery of civilization through which they had come,
at length to land on the beach of her island. She knew now the
supreme human energy which sent men to hell or carried them to
their earthly heights. Selfishness.

Supposing she saw the young man at dinner that night, emptying his
bottle? She could not go to him, sit down and draw the sordid
pictures she had seen so often. In her case the barrier was not
selfishness but the perception that her interest would be
misinterpreted, naturally. What right had a young woman to possess
the scarring and intimate knowledge of that dreg of human society,
the beachcomber?



CHAPTER II


Ah Cum lived at No. 6 Chiu Ping le, Chiu Yam Street. He was a
Canton guide, highly educated, having been graduated from Yale
University. If he took a fancy to you, he invited you to the house
for tea, bitter and yellow and served in little cups without
handles. If you knew anything about Canton ware, you were, as like
as not, sorely tempted to stuff a teacup into your pocket.

He was tall, slender, and suave. He spoke English with astonishing
facility and with a purity which often embarrassed his tourists. He
made his headquarters at the Victoria on the Sha-mien, and
generally met the Hong-Kong packet in the morning. You left
Hong-Kong at night, by way of the Pearl River, and arrived in Canton
the next morning. Ah Cum presented his black-bordered card to such
individuals as seemed likely to require his services.

This morning his entourage (as he jestingly called it) consisted of
the girl, two spinsters (Prudence and Angelina Jedson), prim and
doubtful of the world, and the young man who appeared to be
considerably the worse for the alcohol he had consumed.

In the beginning Ah Cum would run his glance speculatively over the
assortment and select that individual who promised to be the most
companionable. He was a philosopher. Usually his charges bored him
with their interrogative chatter, for he knew that his information
more often than not went into one ear and out of the other. To-day
he selected the girl, and gave her the lead-chair. He motioned the
young man to the rear chair, because at that hour the youth
appeared to be a quantity close to zero. Being a Chinaman in blood
and instinct, he despised all spinsters; they were parasites. A
woman was born to have children, particularly male children.

Half a day had turned the corner of the hours; and Ah Cum admitted
that this girl puzzled him. He dug about in his mind for a term to
fit her, and he came upon the word _new_. She was new, unlike any
other woman he had met in all his wide travel. He could not tell
whether she was English or American. From long experience with both
races he had acquired definitions, but none snugly applied to this
girl. Her roving eagerness was at all times shaded with shyness,
reserve, repression. Her voice was soft and singularly musical; but
from time to time she uttered old-fashioned words which forced him
to grope mentally. She had neither the semi-boisterousness of the
average American girl nor the chilling insolence of the English.

Ah, these English! They travelled all over, up and down the world,
not to acquire information but rather to leave the impress of their
superiority as a race. It was most amusing. They would suffer
amazing hardships to hunt the snow-leopard; but in the Temple of
Five Hundred Gods they would not take the trouble to ask the name
of one!

But this girl, she was alone. That added to his puzzle. At this
moment she was staring ahead; and again came the opportunity to
study her. Fine but strong lines marked the profile: that would
speak for courage and resolution. She was as fair as the lily of
the lotus. That suggested delicacy; and yet her young body was
strong and vital. Whence had she come: whither was she bound?

A temporary congestion in the street held up the caravan for a
spell; and Ah Cum looked backward to note if any of the party had
become separated. It was then that the young man entered his
thought with some permanency: because there was no apparent reason
for his joining the tour, since from the beginning he had shown no
interest in anything. He never asked questions; he never addressed
his companions; and frequently he took off his cap and wiped his
forehead. For the first time it occurred to Ah Cum that the young
man might not be quite conscious of his surroundings, that he might
be moving in that comatose state which is the aftermath of a long
debauch. For all that, Ah Cum was forced to admit that his charge
did not look dissipated.

Ah Cum was more or less familiar with alcoholic types. In the
genuinely dissipated face there was always a suggestion of slyness
in ambush, peeping out of the wrinkles around the eyes and the
lips. Upon this young fellow's face there were no wrinkles, only
shadows, in the hollows of the cheeks and under the eyes. He was
more like a man who had left his bed in the middle of
convalescence.

Ah Cum's glance returned to the girl. Of course, it really
signified nothing in this careless part of the world that she was
travelling alone. What gave the puzzling twist to an ordinary
situation was her manner: she was guileless. She reminded him of
his linnet, when he gave the bird the freedom of the house: it
became filled with a wild gaiety which bordered on madness. All
that was needed to complete the simile was that the girl should
burst into song.

But, alas! Ah Cum shrugged philosophically. His commissions this
day would not fill his metal pipe with one wad of tobacco. The
spinsters had purchased one grass-linen tablecloth; the girl and
the young man had purchased nothing. That she had not bought one
piece of linen subtly established in Ah Cum's mind the fact that
she had no home, that the instinct was not there, or she would have
made some purchase against the future.

Between his lectures--and primarily he was an itinerant lecturer--he
manoeuvred in vain to acquire some facts regarding the girl, who she
was, whence she had come; but always she countered with: "What is
that?" Guileless she might be; simple, never.

It was noon when the caravan reached the tower of the water-clock.
Here they would be having lunch. Ah Cum said that it was customary
to give the chair boys small money for rice. The four tourists
contributed varied sums: the spinsters ten cents each, the girl a
shilling, the young man a Mexican dollar. The lunches were
individual affairs: sandwiches, bottled olives and jam commandeered
from the Victoria.

"You are alone?" said one of the spinsters--Prudence Jedson.

"Yes," answered the girl.

"Aren't you afraid?"

"Of what?"--serenely.

"The men."

"They know."

"They know what?"

"When and when not to speak. You have only to look resolute and
proceed upon your way."

Ah Cum lent an ear covertly.

"How old are you?" demanded Miss Prudence.

The spinsters offered a good example of how singular each human
being is, despite the fact that in sisters the basic corpuscle is
the same. Prudence was the substance and Angelina the shadow; for
Angelina never offered opinions, she only agreed with those
advanced by Prudence.

"I am twenty," said the girl.

Prudence shook her head. "You must have travelled a good deal to
know so much about men."

The girl smiled and began to munch a sandwich. Secretly she was
gratified to be assigned to the rôle of an old traveller. Still, it
was true about men. Seldom they molested a woman who appeared to
know where she was going and who kept her glance resolutely to the
fore.

Said Prudence, with commendable human kindness: "My sister and I
are going on to Shanghai and Peking. If you are going that way, why
not join us."

The girl's blood ran warmly for a minute. "That is very kind of
you, but I am on my way to America. Up to dinner yesterday I did
not expect to come to Canton. I was the last on board. Wasn't the
river beautiful under the moonlight?"

"We did not leave our cabins. Did you bring any luggage?"

"All I own. In this part of the world it is wise never to be
separated from your luggage."

The girl fished into the bottle for an olive. How clever she was,
to fool everybody so easily! Not yet had any one suspected the
truth: that she was, in a certain worldly sense, only four weeks
old, that her every act had been written down on paper beforehand,
and that her success lay in rigidly observing the rules which she
herself had drafted to govern her conduct.

She finished the olive and looked up. Directly in range stood the
strange young man, although he was at the far side of the loft. He
was leaning against a window frame, his hat in his hand. She noted
the dank hair on his forehead, the sweat of revolting nature. What
a pity! But why?

There was no way over this puzzle, nor under it, nor around it:
that men should drink, knowing the inevitable payment. This young
man did not drink because he sought the false happiness that lured
men to the bottle. To her mind, recalling the picture of him the
night before, there had been something tragic in the grim silent
manner of his tippling. Peg after peg had gone down his blistered
throat, but never had a smile touched his lips, never had his gaze
roved inquisitively. Apparently he had projected beyond his table
some hypnotic thought, for it had held him all through the dining
hour.

Evidently he was gazing at the dull red roofs of the city: but was
he registering what he saw? Never glance sideways at man, the old
Kanaka woman had said. Yes, yes; that was all very well in ordinary
cases; but yonder was a soul in travail, if ever she had seen one.
Here was not the individual against whom she had been warned. He
had not addressed to her even the most ordinary courtesy of fellow
travellers; she doubted that he was even aware of her existence.
She went further: she doubted that he was fully conscious of where
he was.

Suddenly she became aware of the fact that he had brought no lunch.
A little kindness would not bring the world tumbling about her
ears. So she approached him with sandwiches.

"You forgot your lunch," she said. "Won't you take these?"

For a space he merely stared at her, perhaps wondering if she were
real. Then a bit of colour flowed into his sunken white cheeks.

"Thank you; but I've a pocket full of water-chestnuts. I'm not
hungry."

"Better eat these, even if you don't want them," she urged. "My
name is Ruth Enschede."

"Mine is Howard Spurlock."

Immediately he stepped back. Instinctively she imitated this
action, chilled and a little frightened at the expression of terror
that confronted her. Why should he stare at her in this
fashion?--for all the world as if she had pointed a pistol at his
head?



CHAPTER III


He had said it, spoken it like that ... his own name! After all
these weeks of trying to obliterate even the memory of it!... to
have given it to this girl without her asking!

The thought of peril cleared a space in the alcoholic fog. He saw
the expression on the girl's face and understood what it signified,
that it was the reflected pattern of his own. He shut his eyes and
groped for the wall to steady himself, wondering if this bit of
mummery would get over.

"I beg your pardon!... A bit rocky this morning.... That window
there.... Cloud back of your hat!" He opened his eyes again.

"I understand," she said. The poor boy, imagining things! "That's
want of substantial food. Better take these sandwiches."

"All right; and thank you. I'll eat them when we start. Just now
the water-chestnuts...."

She smiled, and returned to the spinsters.

Spurlock began to munch his water-chestnuts. What he needed was not
a food but a flavour; and the cocoanut taste of the chestnuts
soothed his burning tongue and throat. He had let go his name so
easily as that! What was the name she had given? Ruth something; he
could not remember. What a frightened fool he was! If he could not
remember her name, it was equally possible that already she had
forgotten his. Conscience was always digging sudden pits for his
feet and common sense ridiculing his fears. Mirages, over which he
was constantly throwing bridges which were wasted efforts, since
invariably they spanned solid ground.

But he would make it a point not to speak again to the girl. If he
adhered to this policy--to keep away from her inconspicuously--she
would forget the name by night, and to-morrow even the bearer of it
would sink below the level of recollection. That was life. They
were only passers-by.

Drink for him had a queer phase. It did not cheer or fortify him
with false courage and recklessness; it simply enveloped him in a
mist of unreality. A shudder rippled across his shoulders. He hated
the taste of it. The first peg was torture. But for all that, it
offered relief; his brain, stupefied by the fumes, grew dull, and
conscience lost its edge to bite.

He wiped the sweat from his chin and forehead. His hand shook so
violently that he dropped the handkerchief; and he let it lie on
the floor because he dared not stoop.

Ah Cum, sensing the difficulty, approached, recovered the damp
handkerchief and returned it.

"Thanks."

"Very interesting," said the Chinaman, with a wave of his tapering
hand toward the roofs. "It reminds you of a red sea suddenly
petrified."

"Or the flat stones in the meadows, teeming with life underneath.
Ants."

"You are from America?"

"Yes." But Spurlock put up his guard.

"I am a Yale man," said Ah Cum.

"Yale? Why, so am I." There was no danger in admitting this fact.
Spurlock offered his hand, which Ah Cum accepted gravely. A broken
laugh followed the action. "Yale!" Spurlock's gaze shifted to the
dead hills beyond the window; when it returned to the Chinaman
there was astonishment instead of interest: as if Ah Cum had been a
phantom a moment since and was now actually a human being. "Yale!"
A Chinaman who had gone to Yale!

"Yes. Civil engineering. Mentally but not physically competent. Had
to give up the work and take to this. I'm not noble; so my
honourable ancestors will not turn over in their graves."

"Graves." Spurlock pointed in the sloping fields outside the walls.
"I've counted ten coffins so far."

"Ah, yes. The land about these walls is a common graveyard. Every
day in the year you will witness such scenes. There are no funerals
among the poor, only burials. And many of these deaths could be
avoided if it were not for superstition. Superstition is the
Chinese Reaper. Rituals instead of medicines. Sometimes I try to
talk. I might as well try to build a ladder to heaven. We must take
the children--of any race--if we would teach knowledge. Age is set,
impervious to innovations."

The Chinaman paused. He saw that his words were falling upon dull
ears. He turned to observe what this object was that had so
unexpectedly diverted the young man's attention. It was the girl.
She was standing before a window, against the background of the
rain-burdened April sky. There was enough contra-light to render
her ethereal.

Spurlock was basically a poet, quick to recognize beauty, animate
or inanimate, and to transcribe it in unuttered words. He was
always word-building, a metaphorist, lavish with singing
adjectives; but often he built in confusion because it was
difficult to describe something beautiful in a new yet simple way.

He had not noticed the girl particularly when she offered the
sandwiches; but in this moment he found her beautiful. Her face
reminded him of a delicate unglazed porcelain cup, filled with
blond wine. But there was something else; and in his befogged
mental state the comparison eluded him.

Ruth broke the exquisite pose by summoning Ah Cum, who was lured
into a lecture upon the water-clock. This left Spurlock alone.

He began munching his water-chestnuts--a small brown radish-shaped
vegetable, with the flavour of coconut--that grow along the river
brims. Below the window he saw two coolies carrying a coffin, which
presently they callously dumped into a yawning pit. This made the
eleventh. There were no mourners. But what did the occupant of the
box care? The laugh was always with the dead: they were out of the
muddle.

From the unlovely hillside his glance strayed to the several
five-story towers of the pawnshops. Celestial Uncles! Spurlock
chuckled, and a bit of chestnut, going down the wrong way, set him
to coughing violently. When the paroxysm passed, he was forced to
lean against the window-jamb for support.

"That young man had better watch his cough," said Spinster
Prudence. "He acts queerly, too."

"They always act like that after drink," said Ruth, casually.

She intercepted the glance the spinsters exchanged, and immediately
sensed that she had said too much. There was no way of recalling
the words; so she waited.

"Miss Enschede--such an odd name!--are you French?"

"Oh, no. Pennsylvania Dutch. But I have never seen America. I was
born on an island in the South Seas. I am on my way to an aunt who
lives in Hartford, Connecticut."

The spinsters nodded approvingly. Hartford had a very respectable
sound.

Ruth did not consider it necessary, however, to add that she had
not notified this aunt of her coming, that she did not know whether
the aunt still resided in Hartford or was underground. These two
elderly ladies would call her stark mad. Perhaps she was.

"And you have seen ... drunken men?" Prudence's tones were full of
suppressed horror.

"Often. A very small settlement, mostly natives. There was a
trader--a man who bought copra and pearls. Not a bad man as men
go, but he would sell whisky and gin. Over here men drink because
they are lonely; and when they drink too hard and too long, they
wind up on the beach."

The spinsters stared at her blankly.

Ruth went on to explain. "When a man reaches the lowest scale
through drink, we call him a beachcomber. I suppose the phrase--the
word--originally meant a man who searched for food on the beach.
The poor things! Oh, it was quite dreadful. It is queer, but men of
education and good birth fall swiftest and lowest."

She sent a covert glance toward the young man. She alone of them
all knew that he was on the first leg of the terrible journey to
the beach. Somebody ought to talk to him, warn him. He was all
alone, like herself.

"What are those odd-looking things on the roofs?" she asked of Ah
Cum.

"Pigs and fish, to fend off the visitations of the devil." Ah Cum
smiled. "After all, I believe we Chinese have the right idea. The
devil is on top, not below. We aren't between him and heaven; he is
between us and heaven."

The spinsters had no counter-philosophy to offer; so they turned to
Ruth, who had singularly and unconsciously invested herself with
glamour, the glamour of adventure, which the old maids did not
recognize as such because they were only tourists. This child at
once alarmed and thrilled them. She had come across the wicked
South Seas which were still infested with cannibals; she had seen
drunkenness and called men beachcombers; who was this moment as
innocent as a babe, and in the next uttered some bitter wisdom it
had taken a thousand years of philosophy to evolve. And there was
that dress of hers! She must be warned that she had been imposed
upon.

"You'll pardon an old woman, Miss Enschede," said Sister Prudence;
"but where in this world did you get that dress?"

Ruth picked up both sides of the skirt and spread it, looking down.
"Is there anything wrong with it?"

"Wrong? Why, you have been imposed upon somewhere. That dress is
thirty years old, if a day."

"Oh!" Ruth laughed softly. "That is easily explained. I haven't
much money; I don't know how much it is going to cost me to reach
Hartford; so I fixed over a couple of my mother's dresses. It
doesn't look bad, does it?"

"Mercy, no! That wasn't the thought. It was that somebody had
cheated you."

The spinster did not ask if the mother lived; the question was
inconsequent. No mother would have sent her daughter into the world
with such a wardrobe. Straitened circumstances would not have
mattered; a mother would have managed somehow. In the '80s such a
dress would have indicated considerable financial means; under the
sun-helmet it was an anachronism; and yet it served only to add a
quainter charm to the girl's beauty.

"Do you know what you make me think of?"

"What?"

"As if you had stepped out of some old family album."

The feminine vanities in Ruth were quiescent; nothing had ever
occurred in her life to tingle them into action. She was dressed as
a white woman should be; and that for the present satisfied her
instincts. But she threw a verbal bombshell into the spinsters'
camp.

"What is a family album?"

"You poor child, do you mean to tell me you've never seen a family
album? Why, it's a book filled with the photographs of your
grandmothers and grandfathers, your aunts and uncles and cousins,
your mother and father when they were little."

Ruth stood with drawn brows; she was trying to recall. "No; we
never had one; at least, I never saw it."

The lack of a family album for some reason put a little ache in her
heart. Grandmothers and grandfathers and uncles and aunts ... to
love and to coddle lonely little girls.

"You poor child!" said Prudence.

"Then I am old-fashioned. Is that it? I thought this very pretty."

"So it is, child. But one changes the style of one's clothes
yearly. Of course, this does not apply to uninteresting old maids,"
Prudence modified with a dry little smile.

"But this is good enough to travel in, isn't it?"

"To be sure it is. When you reach San Francisco, you can buy
something more appropriate." It occurred to the spinster to ask:
"Have you ever seen a fashion magazine?"

"No. Sometimes we had the _Illustrated London News_ and _Tit-Bits._
Sailors would leave them at the trader's."

"Alice in Wonderland!" cried Prudence, perhaps a little enviously.

"Oh, I've read that!"

Spurlock had heard distinctly enough all of this odd conversation;
but until the spinster's reference to the family album, no phrase
had been sufficient in strength of attraction to break the trend of
his own unhappy thoughts. Out of an old family album: here was the
very comparison that had eluded him. His literary instincts began
to stir. A South Sea island girl, and this was her first adventure
into civilization. Here was the corner-stone of a capital story;
but he knew that Howard Spurlock would never write it.

Other phrases returned now, like echoes. The beachcomber, the
lowest in the human scale; and some day he would enter into this
estate. Between him and the beach stood the sum of six hundred
dollars.

But one thing troubled him, and because of it he might never arrive
on the beach. A new inexplicable madness that urged him to shrill
ironically the story of his coat--to take it off and fling it at
the feet of any stranger who chanced to be nigh.

"Look at it!" he felt like screaming. "Clean and spotless, but
beginning to show the wear and tear of constant use. I have worn it
for weeks and weeks. I have slept with it under my pillow. Observe
it--a blue-serge coat. Ever hear of the djinn in the bottle? Like
enough. But did you ever hear of a djinn in a blue-serge coat?
_Stitched_ in!"

Something like this was always rushing into his throat; and he had
to sink his nails into his palms to stop his mouth. Very
fascinating, though, trying to analyse the impulse. It was not an
affair of the conscience; it was vaguely based upon insolence and
defiance. He wondered if these abnormal mental activities presaged
illness. To be ill and helpless.

He went on munching his water-chestnuts, and stared at the skyline.
He hated horizons. He was always visualizing the Hand whenever he
let his gaze rest upon the horizon. An enormous Hand that rose up
swiftly, blotting out the sky. A Hand that strove to reach his
shoulder, relentless, soulless but lawful. The scrutiny of any
strange man provoked a sweaty terror. What a God-forsaken fool he
was! And dimly, out there somewhere in the South Seas--the beach!

Already he sensed the fascination of the inevitable; and with this
fascination came the idea of haste, to get there quickly and have
done. Odd, but he had never thought of the beach until this girl
(who looked as if she had stepped out of the family album) referred
to it with a familiarity which was as astonishing as it was
profoundly sad.

The beach: to get there as quickly as he could, to reach the white
man's nadir of abasement and gather the promise of that soothing
indifference which comes with the final disintegration of the
fibres of conscience. He had an objective now.



CHAPTER IV


The tourists returned to the Sha-mien at four o'clock. They were
silent and no longer observant, being more or less exhausted by the
tedious action of the chairs. Even Ah Cum had resumed his Oriental
shell of reserve. To reach the Sha-mien--and particularly the Hotel
Victoria--one crossed a narrow canal, always choked with rocking
sampans over and about which swarmed yellow men and women and
children in varied shades of faded blue cotton. At sunset the
swarming abruptly ceased; even the sampans appeared to draw closer
together, with the quiet of water-fowl. There is everywhere at
night in China the original fear of darkness.

From the portals of the hotel--scarcely fifty yards from the
canal--one saw the blank face of the ancient city of Canton. Blank
it was, except for a gate near the bridgehead. Into this hole in the
wall and out of it the native stream flowed from sunrise to sunset,
when the stream mysteriously ceased. The silence of Canton at night
was sinister, for none could prophesy what form of mob might
suddenly boil out.

No Cantonese was in those days permitted to cross to the Sha-mien
after sunset without a license. To simplify matters, he carried a
coloured paper lantern upon which his license number was painted in
Arabic numerals. It added to the picturesqueness of the Sha-mien
night to observe these gaily coloured lanterns dancing hither and
yon like June fireflies in a meadow.

Meantime the spinsters sought the dining room where tea was being
served. They had much to talk about, or rather Miss Prudence had.

"But she is a dear," said Angelina, timidly.

"I'll admit that. But I don't understand her; she's over my head.
She leaves me almost without comparisons. She is like some
character out of Phra the Phoenician: she's been buried for thirty
years and just been excavated. That's the way she strikes me. And
it's uncanny."

"But I never saw anybody more alive."

"Who wouldn't be lively after thirty years' sleep? Did you hear her
explain about beachcombers? And yet she looks at one with the
straightest glance I ever saw. Still, I'm glad she didn't accept my
invitation to join us. I shouldn't care to have attention
constantly drawn to us. This world over here! Everything's
upside-down or back-end-to. Humph!"

"What's the matter?"

"Sh!"

Spurlock passed by on the way to the bar. Apparently he did not see
his recent companions. There was a strained, eager expression on
his face.

"Going to befuddle himself between now and dinner," was the comment
of Prudence.

"The poor young man!" sighed Angelina.

"Pah! He's a fool. I never saw a man who wasn't."

"There was Father," suggested Angelina gently.

"Ninny! What did we know about Father, except when he was around
the house? But where is the girl? She said something about having
tea with us. I want to know more about her. I wonder if she has any
idea how oddly beautiful she is?"

Ruth at that precise moment was engaged by a relative wonder. She
was posing before the mirror, critically, miserably, defensively,
and perhaps bewilderedly. What was the matter with the dress? She
could not see. For the past four weeks mirrors had been her
delight, a new toy. Here was one that subtly mocked her.

Life is a patchwork of impressions, of vanishing personalities.
Each human contact leaves some indelible mark. The spinsters--who
on the morrow would vanish out of the girl's life for ever--had
already left their imprint upon her imagination. Clothes.
Henceforth Ruth would closely observe her fellow women and note the
hang of their skirts.

Around her neck was a little gold chain. She gathered up the chain,
revealing a locket which had lain hidden in her bosom. The locket
contained the face of her mother--all the family album she had. She
studied the face and tried to visualize the body, clothed in the
dress which had created the spinsters' astonishment. Very well.
To-morrow, when she returned to Hong-Kong, she would purchase a
simple but modern dress. Anything that drew attention to her must be
avoided.

She dropped the locket into its sweet hiding place. It was precious
for two reasons: it was the photograph of her beautiful mother whom
she could not remember, and it would identify her to the aunt in
Hartford.

She uttered a little ejaculative note of joy and rushed to the bed.
A dozen books lay upon the counterpane. Oh, the beautiful books!
Romance, adventure, love stories! She gathered up the books in her
arms and cuddled them, as a mother might have cuddled a child. Love
stories! It was of negligible importance that these books were
bound in paper; Romance lay unalterably within. All these wonderful
comrades, henceforth and for ever hers. She would never again be
lonely. Les Misérables, A Tale of Two Cities, Henry Esmond, The
Last Days of Pompeii, The Marble Faun ... Love stories!

Until her arrival in Singapore, she had never read a novel.
Pilgrim's Progress, The Life of Martin Luther and Alice in
Wonderland (the only fairy-story she had been permitted to read)
were the sum total of her library. But in the appendix of the
dictionary she had discovered magic names--Hugo, Dumas, Thackeray,
Hawthorne, Lytton. She had also discovered the names of Grimm and
Andersen; but at that time she had not been able to visualize "the
pale slender things with gossamer wings"--fairies. The world into
which she was so boldly venturing was going to be wonderful, but
never so wonderful as the world within these paper covers. Already
Cosette was her chosen friend. Daily contact with actual human
beings all the more inclined her toward the imaginative.

Joyous, she felt the need of physical expression; and her body
began to sway sinuously, to glide and turn and twist about the
room. As she danced there was in her ears the faded echo of wooden
tom-toms.

Eventually her movements carried her to the little stand at the
side of the bed. There lay upon this stand a book bound in limp
black leather--the Holy Bible.

Her glance, absorbing the gilt letters and their significance,
communicated to her poised body a species of paralysis. She stood
without motion and without strength. The books slid from her arms
and fluttered to the floor. Presently repellance grew under the
frozen mask of astonishment and dissipated it.

"No!" she cried. "No, no!"

With a gesture, fierce and intolerant, she seized the Bible and
thrust it out of sight, into the drawer. Then, her body still tense
with the atoms of anger, she sat down upon the edge of the bed and
rocked from side to side. But shortly this movement ceased. The
recollection of the forlorn and loveless years--stirred into
consciousness by the unexpected confrontation--bent her as the high
wind bends the water-reed.

"My father!" she whispered. "My own father!"

Queerly the room and its objects receded and vanished; and there
intervened a series of mental pictures that so long as she lived
would ever be recurring. She saw the moonlit waters, the black
shadow of the proa, the moon-fire that ran down the far edge of the
bellying sail, the silent natives: no sound except the slapping of
the outrigger and the low sibilant murmur of water falling away
from the sides--and the beating of her heart. The flight.

How she had fought her eagerness in the beginning, lest it reveal
her ignorance of the marvels of mankind! The terror and ecstasy of
that night in Singapore--the first city she had ever seen! There
was still the impression that something akin to a miracle had
piloted her successfully from one ordeal to another.

The clerk at the Raffles Hotel had accorded her but scant interest.
She had, it was true, accepted doubtfully the pen he had offered.
She had not been sufficiently prompted in relation to the ways of
caravansaries; but her mind had been alert and receptive. Almost at
once she had comprehended that she was expected to write down her
name and address, which she did, in slanting cobwebby lettering,
perhaps a trifle laboriously. Ruth Enschede, Hartford, Conn. The
address was of course her destination, thousands of miles away, an
infinitesimal spot in a terrifying space.

She could visualize the picture she had presented, particularly the
battered papier-mâché kitbag at her feet. In Europe or in America
people would have smiled; but in Singapore--the half-way port of
the world--where a human kaleidoscope tumbles continuously east and
west, no one had remarked her.

She would never forget the agony of that first meal in the great
dining room. She could have dined alone in her room; but courage
had demanded that she face the ordeal and have done with it. Every
eye seemed focussed upon her; and yet she had known the sensation
to be the conceit of her imagination.

The beautiful gowns and the flashing bare shoulders and arms of the
women had disturbed and distressed her. Women, she had been taught,
who exposed the flesh of their bodies under the eyes of man were in
a special catagory of the damned. Almost instantly she had
recognized the fallacy of such a statement. These women could not
be bad, else the hotel would not have permitted them to enter!
Still, the scene presented a riddle: to give immunity to the black
women who went about all but naked and to damn the white for
exposing their shoulders!

She had eaten but little; all her hunger had been in her eyes--and
in her heart. Loneliness--something that was almost physical: as if
the vitality had been taken out of the air she breathed. The
longing to talk to someone! But in the end she had gone to her room
without giving in to the craving.

Once in the room, the door locked, the sense of loneliness had
dropped away from her as the mists used to drop away from the
mountain in the morning. Even then she had understood vaguely that
she had touched upon some philosophy of life: that one was never
lonely when alone, only in the midst of crowds.

Another picture slid across her vision. She saw herself begin a
slow, sinuous dance: and stop suddenly in the middle of a figure,
conscious that the dance was not impromptu, her own, but native--the
same dance she had quitted but a few minutes gone. She had fallen
into it naturally, the only expression of the dance she had ever
seen or known, and that a stolen sweet. That was odd: when young
people were joyous, they had to express it physically. But native!
She must watch out.

She remembered that she had not gone to bed until two o'clock in
the morning. She had carried a chair into the room veranda and had
watched and listened until the night silences had lengthened and
only occasionally she heard a voice or the rattle of rickshaw
wheels in the courtyard.

The great ordeal--that which she had most dreaded--had proved to be
no ordeal at all. The kindly American consul-general had himself
taken her to the bank, where her banknotes had been exchanged for a
letter of credit, and had thoroughly advised her. Everything had so
far come to pass as the withered old Kanaka woman had foretold.

"The Golden One knows that I have seen the world; therefore follow
my instructions. Never glance sideways at man. Nothing else
matters."

The prison bars of circumstance, they no longer encompassed her.
Her wings were oddly weak, but for all that she could fly. That was
the glorious if bewildering truth. She had left for ever the cage,
the galling leash: she was free. The misty caravans of which she
had dreamed were become actualities. She had but to choose. All
about her, hither and yon, lay the enticing Unknown. Romance! The
romance of passing faces, of wires that carried voices and words to
the far ends of the world, of tremendous mechanisms that propelled
ships and trains! And, oh the beautiful books!

She swiftly knelt upon the floor and once more gathered the books
to her heart.



CHAPTER V


At dinner the spinsters invited Ruth to sit at their table, an
invitation she accepted gratefully. She was not afraid exactly, but
there was that about her loneliness to-night she distrusted.
Detached, it was not impossible that she would be forced to leave
the dining room because of invading tears. To be near someone, even
someone who made a pretense of friendliness, to hear voices, her
own intermingling, would serve as a rehabilitating tonic. The world
had grown dark and wide, and she was very small. Doubts began to
rise up all about her, plucking at her confidence. Could she go
through with it? She must. She would never, never go back.

As usual the substantive sister--Prudence--did all the talking for
the pair; Angelina, the shadow, offered only her submitting nods.
Sometimes she missed her cue and nodded affirmatively when the
gesture should have been the reverse; and Prudence would send her a
sharp glance of disapproval. Angelina's distress over these
mischances was pathetic.

None of this by-play escaped Ruth, whose sense of humour needed no
developing. That she possessed any sense of humour was in itself
one of those human miracles which metaphysicians are always
pothering over without arriving anywhere; for her previous
environment had been particularly humourless. But if she smiled at
all it was with her eyes. To-night she could have hugged both the
old maids.

"Somebody ought to get hold of that young man," said Prudence,
grimly, as she nodded in Spurlock's direction. "Look at him!"

Ruth looked. He was draining a glass, and as he set it down he
shuddered. A siphon and a whisky bottle stood before him. He
measured out the portion of another peg, the bottle wavering in his
hand. His food lay untouched about his plate. There was no disgust
in Ruth's heart, only an infinite pity; for only the pitiful
understand.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"I have no sympathy," replied Prudence, "with a man who
deliberately fuddles himself with strong drink."

"You would, if you had seen what I have. Men in this part of the
world drink to forget the things they have lost."

"And what should a young man like this one have to forget?"
Prudence demanded to know.

"I wonder," said Ruth. "Couldn't you speak to him?"

"What?--and be insulted for my trouble? No, thank you!"

"That is it. You complain of a condition, but you leave the
correction to someone else."

The spinster had no retort to offer such directness. This child was
frequently disconcerting. Prudence attacked her chicken wing.

"If I spoke to him, my interest might be misinterpreted."

"Where did you go to school?" Prudence asked, seeking a new
channel, for the old one appeared to be full of hidden reefs.

"I never went to school."

"But you are educated!"--astonished.

"That depends upon what you call educated. Still, my tutor was a
highly educated scholar--my father." Neither spinster noticed the
reluctance in the tones.

"Ah! I see. He suddenly realized that he could not keep you for
ever in this part of the world; so he sends you to your aunt. That
dress! Only a man--and an unworldly one--would have permitted you
to proceed on your adventure dressed in a gown thirty years out of
date. What is your father's business?"

The question was an impertinence, but Ruth was not aware of that.

"Souls," she answered, drily.

"A missioner! That illuminates everything." The spinster's face
actually became warm. "You will finish your education in the East
and return. I see."

"No. I shall never come back."

Something in the child's voice, something in her manner, warned the
spinster that her well-meaning inquisitiveness had received a
set-back and that it would be dangerous to press it forward again.
What she had termed illuminative now appeared to be only another
phase of the mystery which enveloped the child. A sinister thought
edged in. Who could say that the girl's father had not once been a
fashionable clergyman in the States and that drink had got him and
forced him down, step by step, until--to use the child's odd
expression--he had come upon the beach? She was cynical, this
spinster. There was no such a thing as perfection in a mixed world.
Clergymen were human. Still, it was rather terrible to suspect that
one had fallen from grace, but nevertheless the thing was possible.
With the last glimmer of decency he had sent the daughter to his
sister. The poor child! What frightful things she must have seen on
that island of hers!

The noise of crashing glass caused a diversion; and Ruth turned
gratefully toward the sound.

The young man had knocked over the siphon. He rose, steadied
himself, then walked out of the dining room. Except for the dull
eyes and the extreme pallor of his face, there was nothing else to
indicate that he was deep in liquor. He did not stagger in the
least. And in this fact lay his danger. The man who staggers, whose
face is flushed, whose attitude is either noisily friendly or
truculent, has some chance; liquor bends him eventually. But men of
the Spurlock type, who walk straight, who are unobtrusive and
intensely pale, they break swiftly and inexplicably. They seldom
arrive on the beach. There are way-stations--even terminals.

There was still the pity of understanding in Ruth's eyes. Perhaps
it was loneliness. Perhaps he had lost his loved ones and was
wandering over the world seeking forgetfulness. But he would die if
he continued in this course. They were alike in one phase--loveless
and lonely. If he died, here in this hotel, who would care? Or if
she died, who would care?

A queer desire blossomed in her heart: to go to him, urge him to
see the folly of trying to forget. Of what use was the temporary
set-back to memory, when it always returned with redoubled
poignancy?

Then came another thought, astonishing. This was the first young
man who had drawn from her something more than speculative
interest. True, on board the ships she had watched young men from
afar, but only with that normal curiosity which is aroused in the
presence of any new species. But after Singapore she found herself
enduing them with the characteristics of the heroes in the novels
she had just read for the first time. This one was Henry Esmond,
that one the melancholy Marius, and so forth and so on; never any
villains. It wasn't worth while to invest imaginatively a man with
evil projects simply because he was physically ugly.

Some day she wanted to be loved as Marius loved Cosette; but there
was another character which bit far more deeply into her mind. Why?
Because she knew him in life, because, so long as she could
remember, he had crossed and recrossed her vision--Sidney Carton.
The wastrel, the ne'er-do-well, who went mostly nobly to a fine
end.

Here, then, but for the time and place, might be another Sidney
Carton. Given the proper incentive, who could say that he might not
likewise go nobly to some fine end? She thrilled. To find the
incentive! But how? Thither and yon the idea roved, seeking the
way. But always this new phase in life which civilization called
convention threw up barrier after barrier.

She could not go to him with a preachment against strong drink; she
knew from experience that such a plan would be wasted effort. Had
she not seen them go forth with tracts in their pockets and grins
in their beards? To set fire to his imagination, to sting his sense
of chivalry into being, to awaken his manhood, she must present
some irresistible project. She recalled that day of the typhoon and
the sloop crashing on the outer reefs. The heroism of two beach
combers had saved all on board and their own manhood as well.

"Are you returning to Hong-Kong to-morrow by the day boat?"

For a moment Ruth was astonished at the sound of the spinster's
voice. She had, by the magic of recollection, set the picture of
the typhoon between herself and her table companions: the terrible
rollers thundering on the white shore, the deafening bellow of the
wind, the bending and snapping palms, the thatches of the native
huts scattering inland, the blur of sand dust, and those two
outcasts defying the elements.

"I don't know," she answered vaguely.

"But there's nothing more to see in Canton."

"Perhaps I'm too tired to plan for to-morrow. Those awful chairs!"

After dinner the spinsters proceeded to inscribe their accustomed
quota of postcards, and Ruth was left to herself. She walked
through the office to the door, aimlessly.

Beyond the steps was a pole-chair in readiness. One of the coolies
held the paper lantern. Near by stood Ah Cum and the young unknown,
the former protesting gently, the latter insistent upon his
demands.

"I repeat," said Ah Cum, "that the venture is not propitious.
Canton is all China at night. If we were set upon I could not
defend you. But I can easily bring in a sing-song girl to play for
you."

"No. I want to make my own selection."

"Very well, sir. But if you have considerable money, you had better
leave it in the office safe. You can pay me when we return. The
sing-song girls in Hong-Kong are far handsomer. That is a part of
the show in Hong-Kong. But here it is China."

"If you will not take me, I'll find some guide who will."

"I will take you. I simply warn you."

Spurlock entered the office, passed Ruth without observing her (or
if he did observe her, failed to recognize her), and deposited his
funds with the manager.

"I advise you against this trip, Mr. Taber," said the manager.
"Affairs are not normal in Canton at present. Only a few weeks ago
there was a bloody battle on the bridge there between the soldiery
and the local police. Look at these walls."

The walls were covered with racks of loaded rifles. In those
revolutionary times one had to be prepared. Some Chinaman might
take it into his head to shout: "Death to the foreign devils!" And
out of that wall yonder would boil battle and murder and sudden
death. A white man, wandering about the streets of Canton at night,
was a challenge to such a catastrophe.

Taber. Ruth stared thoughtfully at the waiting coolies. That did
not sound like the name the young man had offered in the tower of
the water-clock. She remained by the door until the walls of the
city swallowed the bobbing lantern. Then she went into the office.

"What is a sing-song girl?" she asked.

The manager twisted his moustache. "The same as a Japanese geisha
girl."

"And what is a geisha girl?"

Not to have heard of the geisha! It was as if she had asked: "What
is Paris?" What manner of tourist was this who had heard neither of
the geisha of Japan nor of the sing-song girl of China? Before he
could marshal the necessary phrases to explain, Ruth herself
indicated her thought.

"A bad girl?" She put the question as she would have put any
question--level-eyed and level-toned.

After a series of mental gymnastics--occupying the space of a few
seconds--it came to him with a shock that here was a new specimen
of the species. At the same time he comprehended that she was as
pure and lovely as the white orchid of Borneo and that she did not
carry that ridiculous shield called false modesty. He could talk to
her as frankly as he could to a man, that she would not take
offence at anything so long as it was in the form of explanation.
On the other hand, there was a subconscious impression that she
would be able to read instantly anything unclean in a man's eye.
All her questions would have as a background the idea of future
defence.

"The geisha and the sing-song girl are professional entertainers.
They are not bad girls, but the average tourist has that
misconception of them. If some of them are bad in the sense you
mean, it is because there are bad folks in all walks of life. They
sell only their talents, not their bodies; they are not girls of
the street."

The phrase was new, but Ruth nodded understandingly.

"Still," went on the manager, "they are slaves in a sense; they are
bought and sold until their original indebtedness is paid. A father
is in debt, we'll say. He sells his daughter to a geisha or a
sing-song master, and the girl is rented out until the debt is paid.
Then the work is optional; they go on their own. There are sing-song
girls in Hong-Kong and Shanghai who are famous and wealthy.
Sometimes they marry well. If they become bad it is through
inclination, not necessity."

Again Ruth nodded.

"To go a little further. Morality is a point of view. It is an
Occidental point of view. The Oriental has no equivalent. What you
would look upon as immorality is here merely an established custom,
three thousand years older than Christianity, accepted with no more
ado than that which would accompany you should you become a clerk
in a shop."

"That is what I wanted to know," said Ruth gravely. "The poor
things!"

The manager laughed. "Your sympathy is being wasted. They are the
only happy women in the Orient."

"Do you suppose he knew?"

"He? Oh, you mean Mr. Taber?" He wondered if this crystal being was
interested in that blundering fool who had gone recklessly into the
city. "I don't know what his idea was."

"Will there be any danger?"

"To Mr. Taber? There is a possibility. Canton at night is as much
China as the border town of Lan-Chow-fu. A white man takes his life
in his hands. But Ah Cum is widely known for his luck. Besides," he
added cynically, "it is said that God watches over fools and
drunken men."

This expression was old in Ruth's ears. She had heard the trader
utter it many times.

"Thank you," she said, and left the office.

The manager stared at the empty doorway for a space, shrugged, and
returned to his ledgers. The uncanny directness of those gray eyes,
the absence of diffidence, the beauty of the face in profile (full,
it seemed a little too broad to make for perfect beauty), the
mellow voice that came full and free, without hesitance, all
combined to mark her as the most unusual young woman he had ever
met. He was certain that those lips of hers had never known the
natural and pardonable simper of youth.

Was she interested in that young ass who was risking his bones over
there in the city? They had come up on the same boat. Still, one
never could tell. The young fellow was almost as odd in his way as
the girl was in hers. He seldom spoke, and drank with a persistence
that was sinister. He was never drunk in the accepted meaning of
the word; rather he walked in a kind of stupefaction. Supposing Ah
Cum's luck failed for once?

The manager made a gesture of dismissal, and added up the bill for
the Misses Jedson, who were returning to Hong-Kong in the morning.



CHAPTER VI


Sidney Carton, thought Ruth, in pursuit of a sing-song girl! The
idea was so incongruous that a cold little smile parted her lips.
It seemed as if each time her imagination reached out investingly,
an invisible lash beat it back. Still, she knew instinctively that
all of Sidney Carton's life had not been put upon the printed page.
But to go courting a slave-girl, at the risk of physical hurt! A
shudder of distaste wrinkled her shoulders.

She opened the window, for the night was mild, and sat on the floor
with her chin resting upon the window-sill. Even the stars were
strangers. Where was this kindly world she had drawn so rosily in
fancy? Disillusion everywhere. The spinsters were not kind; they
were only curious because she was odd and wore a dress thirty years
out of date. Later, when they returned home, she would serve as the
topic of many conversations. Everybody looked askance at everybody
else. To escape one phase of loneliness she had plunged into
another, 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 four weeks, what had she learned? That all horizons
were lies: that smiles and handshakes 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 mirages she had plucked
a bitter truth--she was alone.

She turned her cheek to the cold sill; and by and by the sill grew
warm and wet 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 dark forest: where Jean
Valjean reaches out and takes Cosette's frightful pail from her
chapped little hands.

There must be persons tender and loving in this world. There must
be real Valjeans, else how could authors write about them?
Supposing some day she met one of these astonishing creators, who
could make one cry and laugh and forget, who could thrill one with
love and anger and tenderness?

Most of us have witnessed carnivals. Here are all our harlequins
and columbines of the spoken and written drama. They flash to and
fro, they thrill us with expectancy. Then, presto! What a dreary
lot they are when the revellers lay aside the motley!

Ruth had come from a far South Sea isle. The world had not passed
by but had gone around it in a tremendous half-circle. Many things
were only words, sounds; she could not construct these words and
sounds into objects; or, if she did, invariably missed the mark.
Her education was remarkable in that it was overdeveloped here and
underdeveloped there: the woman of thirty and the child of ten were
always getting in each other's way. Until she had left her island,
what she heard and what she saw were truths. And now she was
discovering that even Nature was something of a liar, with her
mirages and her horizons.

At the present moment she was living in a world of her own
creation, a carnival of brave men and fair women, characters out of
the tales she had so newly read for the first time. She could not
resist enduing persons she met with the noble attributes of the
fictional characters. We all did that in our youth, when first we
came upon a fine story; else we were worthless metal indeed. So,
step by step, and hurt by hurt, Ruth was learning that John Smith
was John Smith and nobody else.

Presently she was again in that dreadful tavern of the Thénardiers.
That was the 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 from the printed page. She had never
had a real doll. Instinct had forced her to create something out of
rags to satisfy a mysterious craving. But a doll that rolled its
eyes and had flaxen hair! Except for the manual labour--there had
been 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; that would 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 five persons instead of four. She remembered Taber's
hat. (What was the name he had given her that day?) He was walking
beside the chair upon which appeared to be a bundle of colours. She
could not see clearly. All at once her heart began to patter
queerly. He was bringing the sing-song girl to the hotel!

The strange cortège presently vanished below the window-sill.
Curiosity to see what a sing-song girl was like took possession of
Ruth's thoughts. She fought the inclination for a while, then
surrendered. She was still fully dressed; so all 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 in the rocks after the ebb. She had never been able to
discover where her father had hidden his shaving mirror.

When she entered the office a strange scene was presented to her
startled gaze. The sing-song girl, her fiddle broken, was beating
her forehead upon the floor and wailing: _Ai, ai! Ai, ai!_
Spurlock--or Taber, as he called himself--sat slumped in a chair,
staring with glazed eyes at nothing, absolutely uninterested in the
confusion for which he was primarily accountable. The hotel manager
was expostulating and Ah Cum was replying by a series of expressive
shrugs.

"What has happened?" Ruth asked.

"A drunken idea," said Ah Cum, taking his hands out of his sleeves.
"I could not 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 did not leave all his money in the office. He insisted on
buying this girl for two hundred mex. He now tells her that she is
free, no longer a slave. She doesn't understand; she believes he
has taken a sudden dislike to her. Free, there is nothing left to
her but the canal. Until two hours ago she was as contented and 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 side of 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 Westerner meddling 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. One cannot successfully argue with a drunken man."

The object of this discussion sat motionless. The voices went into
his ears but left no impression of their import. There was, in
fact, only one clear thought in his fevered brain: he had reached
the hotel without falling down.

The sing-song girl, seeing Ruth, extended her hands and began to
chatter rapidly. Ruth made a little gesture, of infinite pity; and
this was quickly seized upon by the slant-eyed Chinese girl. She
crawled over and caught at the skirts 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 knew that he could translate literally. "She is saying that you,
a woman, will readily understand the position in which she finds
herself. She addresses you as 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 course the money will not be refunded.

"Then take her back," said the manager. "You knew better than to
bring her here under the circumstances."

"Well," said Ah Cum, amiably, "when I argued against the venture,
he threatened to go wandering about alone, I was most concerned in
bringing him back unhurt."

He then spoke authoritatively to the girl. He appeared to thunder
dire happenings if she did not obey him without further ado. He
picked up the broken fiddle and beckoned. The sing-song girl rose
and meekly pattered out of the office into the night.

Ruth crossed over to the dramatist of this tragicomedy and put a
hand on his shoulder.

"I understand," she said. Her faith in human beings revived. "You
tried to do something that was fine, and ... and civilization would
not let you."

Spurlock turned his dull eyes and tried to focus hers. Suddenly he
burst into wild laughter; but equally as suddenly something
strangled the sound in his throat. He reached out a hand gropingly,
sagged, and toppled out of the chair to the floor, where he lay
very still.



CHAPTER VII


The astonishing collapse of Spurlock created a tableau of short
duration. Then the hotel manager struck his palms together sharply,
and two Chinese "boys" came pattering in from the dining room. With
a gesture which was without any kind of emotional expression, the
manager indicated the silent crumpled figure on the floor and gave
the room number. The Chinamen raised the limp body and carried it
to the hall staircase, up which they mounted laboriously.

"A doctor at once!" cried Ruth excitedly.

"A doctor? What he needs is a good jolt of aromatic spirits of
ammonia. I can get that at the bar," the manager said, curtly. He
was not particularly grateful for the present situation.

"I warn you, if you do not send for a doctor immediately, you will
have cause to regret it," Ruth declared vigorously. "Something more
than whisky did that. Why did you let him have it?"

"Let him have it? I can't stand at the elbow of any of the guests
and regulate his or her actions. So long as a man behaves himself,
I can't refuse him liquor. But I'll call a doctor, since you order
it. You'll be wasting his time. It is a plain case of alcoholic
stupor. I've seen many cases like it."

He summoned another "boy" and rumbled some Cantonese. Immediately
the "boy" went forth with his paper lantern, repeating a cry as he
ran--warning to clear the way.

"Have the aromatic spirits of ammonia sent to Mr. Taber's room at
once," Ruth ordered. "I will administer it."

"You, Miss Enschede?"--frankly astonished that one stranger should
offer succour to another.

"There is nobody else. Someone ought to be with him until the
doctor arrives. He may die."

The manager made a negative sign. "Your worry is needless."

"It wasn't the fumes of whisky that toppled him out of his chair.
It was his heart. I once saw a man die after collapsing that way."

"You once saw a man die that way?" the manager echoed, his recent
puzzlement returning full tide. Hartford, Connecticut; she had
registered that address; but there was something so mystifyingly
Oriental about her that the address only thickened the haze behind
which she moved. "Where?"

"That can wait," she answered. "Please hurry the ammonia;" and Ruth
turned away abruptly.

Above she found the two Chinamen squatted at the side of the door.
They rose as she approached. She hastened past. She immediately
took the pillows from under the head of the man who had two names,
released the collar and tie, and arranged the arms alongside the
body. His heart was beating, but faintly and slowly, with ominous
intermissions. All alone; and nobody cared whether he lived or
died.

She was now permitted freely to study the face. The comparisons
upon which she could draw were few and confusingly new, mixed with
reality and the loose artistic conceptions of heroes in fiction.
The young male, as she had actually seen him, had been of the
sailor type, hard-bitten, primordial, ruthless. For the face under
her gaze she could find but one expression--fine. The shape of the
head, the height and breadth of the brow, the angle of the nose,
the cut of the chin and jaws, all were fine, of a type she had
never before looked upon closely.

She saw now that it was not a dissipated face; it was as smooth and
unlined as polished marble, which at present it resembled. Still,
something had marked the face, something had left an indelible
touch. Perhaps the sunken cheeks and the protruding cheekbones gave
her this impression. What reassured her, however, more than
anything else, was the shape of the mouth: it was warmly turned.
The confirmed drunkard's mouth at length sets itself peculiarly; it
becomes the mark by which thoughtful men know him. It was not in
evidence here, not a sign of it.

A drunken idea, Ah Cum had called it. And yet it was basically a
fine action. To buy the freedom of a poor little Chinese slave-girl!
For what was the sing-song girl but a slave, the double slave of
custom and of men? Ruth wanted to know keenly what had impelled the
idea. Had he been trying to stop the grim descent, and had he dimly
perceived that perhaps a fine deed would serve as the initial
barrier? A drunken idea--a pearl in the midst of a rubbish heap.
That terrible laughter, just before his senses had left him!

Why? Here was a word that volleyed at her from all directions,
numbed and bewildered her: the multiple echoes of her own first
utterance of the word. Why wasn't the world full of love, when love
made happiness? Why did people hide their natural kindliness as if
it were something shameful? Why shouldn't people say what they
thought and act as they were inclined? Why all this pother about
what one's neighbour thought, when this pother was not energized by
any good will? Why was truth avoided as the plague? Why did this
young man have one name on the hotel register and another on his
lips? Why was she bothering about him at all? Why should there be
this inexplicable compassion, when the normal sensation should have
been repellance? Sidney Carton. Was that it? Had she clothed this
unhappy young man with glamour? Or was it because he was so alone?
She could not get through the husks to the kernel of what really
actuated her.

Somewhere in the world would be his people, perhaps his mother; and
it might soften the bitterness, of the return to consciousness if
he found a woman at his bedside. More than this, it would serve to
mitigate her own abysmal loneliness to pool it temporarily with
his.

She drew up a chair and sat down, putting her palm on the damp,
cold forehead. A bad sign; it signified that the heart action was
in a precarious state. So far he had not stirred; from his
bloodless lips had come no sound.

At length the manager arrived; and together he and Ruth succeeded
in getting some of the aromatic spirits of ammonia down the
patient's throat. But nothing followed to indicate that the liquid
had stimulated the heart.

"You see?" Ruth said.

The manager conceded that he saw, that his original diagnosis was
at fault. Superimposed was the agitating thought of what would
follow the death of this unwelcome guest: confusion, poking
authorities, British and American red tape. It would send business
elsewhere; and the hotel business in Canton was never so prosperous
that one could afford to lose a single guest. Clientèle was of the
most transitory character.

And then, there would be the question of money. Would there be
enough in the young man's envelope to pay the doctor and the hotel
bill--and in the event of his death, enough to ship the body home?
So all things pointed to the happy circumstance of setting this
young fool upon his feet again, of seeing him hence upon his
journey. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

An hour later the doctor arrived; and after a thorough examination,
he looked doubtful.

"He is dying?" whispered Ruth.

"Well, without immediate care he would have passed out. He's on the
ragged edge. It depends upon what he was before he began this
racket. Drink, and no sustaining food. But while there's life
there's hope. There isn't a nurse this side of Hong-Kong to be had.
I've only a Chinaman who is studying under me; but he's a good
sport and will help us out during the crisis. This chap's recovery
all depends upon the care he receives."

Out of nowhere Ruth heard her voice saying: "I will see to that."

"Your husband?"

"No. I do not even know his name."

The doctor sent her a sharp, quizzical glance. He could not quite
make her out; a new type.

"Taber," said the manager; "Taber is the name."

For some reason she did not then understand, Ruth did not offer the
information that Taber had another name.

"This is very fine of you, Miss...."

"Enschede."

"Ah. Well, come back in half an hour. I'll send for Wu Fang. He
speaks English. Not a job he may care about; but he's a good sport.
The hard work will be his, until we yank this young fellow back
from the brink. Run along now; but return in half an hour."

The doctor was in the middle fifties, gray and careworn, but with
alert blue eyes and a gentle mouth. He smiled at Ruth as she turned
away from the bed, smiled with both his mouth and eyes; and she
knew that here would be a man of heart as well as of science. She
went out into the hall, where she met the Jedsons in their kimonos.

"What has happened?" asked Sister Prudence. "We've heard coming and
going."

"Mr. Taber is very ill."

"Oh." Prudence shrugged. "Well, what can you expect, guzzling
poison like that? Are you returning with us to Hong-Kong in the
morning?"

"No. I am going to help take care of him," said Ruth, quite
ordinarily, as though taking care of unknown derelicts was an
ordinary event in her life.

"What?--help take care of him? Why, you can't do that, Miss
Enschede!" was the protest.

"Why can't I?"

"You will be compromised. It isn't as if he were stricken with
typhoid or pneumonia or something like that. You will certainly be
compromised."

"Compromised." Ruth repeated the word, not in the effect of a
query, but ruminantly. "Mutual concessions," she added. "I don't
quite understand the application."

Sister Prudence looked at Sister Angelina, who understood what was
expected of her. Sister Angelina shook her head as if to say that
such ignorance was beyond her.

"Why, it means that people will think evilly of you."

"For a bit of kindness?" Ruth was plainly bewildered.

"You poor child!" Prudence took Ruth's hands in her own. "I never
saw the like of you! One has to guard one's actions constantly in
this wicked world, if one is a woman, young and pretty. A woman
such as I am might help take care of Mr. Taber and no one comment
upon it. But you couldn't. Never in this world! Let the hotel
people take care of him; it's their affair. They sold him the
whisky. Come along with us in the morning. Your father...."

Prudence felt the hands stiffen oddly; and again the thought came
to her that perhaps this poor child's father had once been, perhaps
still was, in the same category as this Taber.

"It's a fine idea, my child, but you mustn't do it. Even if he were
an old friend, you couldn't afford to do it. But a total stranger,
a man you never saw twenty-four hours ago! It can't be thought of.
It isn't your duty."

"I feel bewildered," said Ruth. "Is it wrong, then, to surrender to
good impulses?"

"In the present instance, yes. Can't I make you understand? Perhaps
it sounds cruel to you; but we women often have to be cruel
defensively. You don't want people to snub you later. This isn't
your island, child; it's the great world."

"So I perceive," said Ruth, withdrawing her hands. "He is all
alone. Without care he will die."

"But, goodness me, the hotel will take care of him! Why not? They
sold him the poison. Besides, I have my doubts that he is so very
sick. Probably he will come around to-morrow and begin all over
again. You're alone, too, child. I'm trying to make you see the
worldly point of view, which always inclines toward the evil side
of things."

"I have promised. After all, why should I care what strangers
think?" Ruth asked with sudden heat. "Is there no charity? Isn't it
understood?"

"Of course it is! In the present instance I can offer it and you
can't, or shouldn't. There are unwritten laws governing human
conduct. Who invented them? Nobody knows. But woe to those who
disregard them! Of course, basically it is all wrong; and sometimes
God must laugh at our ideas of rectitude. But to live at peace with
your neighbour...."

Ruth brushed her eyes with one hand and with the other signed for
the spinster to stop. "No more, please! I am bewildered enough. I
understand nothing of what you say. I only know that it is right to
do what I do."

"Well," said Sister Prudence, "remember, I tried to save you some
future heartaches. God bless you, anyhow!" she added, with a
spontaneity which surprised Sister Angelina into uttering an
individual gasp. "Good-bye!"

For a moment Ruth was tempted to fling herself against the withered
bosom; but long since she had learned repression. She remained
stonily in the middle of the hallway until the spinsters' door shut
them from view ... for ever.

[Illustration: _Distinctive Pictures Corporation. The Ragged Edge._
A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY.]



CHAPTER VIII


Slowly Ruth entered her own room. She opened her suitcase--new and
smelling strongly of leather--and took out of it a book, dogeared
and precariously held together, bound in faded blue cloth and
bearing the inscription: The Universal Handbook. Herein was the sum
of human knowledge in essence.

In the beginning it was a dictionary. Words were given with their
original meaning, without their ramifications. If you were a poet
in need of rhymes, you had only to turn to a certain page. Or, if
you were about to embark upon a nautical career, here was all the
information required. It also told you how to write on all
occasions, how to take out a patent, how to doctor a horse, and who
Achates was. You could, if you were ambitious to round out your
education, memorize certain popular foreign phrases.

But beyond "amicable agreement in which mutual concessions are
made," the word "compromise" was as blank as the Canton wall at
night. There were words, then, that ran on indefinitely, with
reversals? Here they meant one thing; there, the exact opposite. To
be sure, Ruth had dimly been aware of this; but now for the first
time she was made painfully conscious of it. Mutual concessions!--and
then to turn it around so that it suggested that an act of kindness
might be interpreted as moral obloquy!

Walls; queer, invisible walls that receded whenever she reached
out, but that still remained between her and what she sought. The
wall of the sky, the wall of the horizon, the wall behind which
each human being hid--the wall behind which she herself was hiding!
If only her mother had lived, her darling mother!

Presently the unhappy puzzlement left her face; and an inward glow
began to lighten it. The curtain before one mystery was torn aside,
and she saw in reality what lay behind the impulse that had led her
into the young man's room. Somebody to whom she would be necessary,
who for days would have to depend upon her for the needs of life.
An inarticulate instinct which now found expression. Upon what this
instinct was based she could not say; she was conscious only of its
insistence. Briefly explained, she was as the child who discards
the rag baby for the living one. Spurlock was no longer a man
before this instinct; he was a child in trouble.

Her cogitations were dissipated by a knock on the door. The visitor
was the hotel manager, who respectfully announced that the doctor
was ready for her. So Ruth took another step toward her
destination, which we in our vanity call destiny.

"Will he live?" asked Ruth.

"Thanks to you," said the doctor. "Without proper medical care, he
would have been dead by morning." He smiled at her as he smiled at
death, cheerfully.

The doctor's smile is singular; there is no other smile that
reaches the same level. It is the immediate inspiration of
confidence; it alleviates pain, because we know by that smile that
pain is soon to leave us; it becomes the bulwark against our
depressive thoughts of death; and it is the promise that we still
have a long way to go before we reach the Great Terminal.

In passing, why do we fear death? For our sins? Rather, isn't it
the tremendous inherent human curiosity to know what is going to
happen to-morrow that causes us to wince at the thought of
annihilation? A subconscious resentment against the idea of
entering darkness while our neighbour will proceed with his petty
affairs as usual?

"It's nip and tuck," said the doctor; "but we'll pull him through.
Probably his first serious bout with John Barleycorn. If he had
eaten food, this wouldn't have happened. It is not a dissipated
face."

"No; it is only--what shall I say?--troubled. The ragged edge."

"Yes. This is also the ragged edge of the world, too. It is the
bottom of the cup, where all the dregs appear to settle. But this
chap is good wine yet. We'll have him on his way before many days.
But ... he must want to live in order that the inclination to
repeat this incident may not recur. The manager tells me that you
are an American. So am I. For ten years I've been trying to go
home, but my conscience will not permit me, I hate the Orient. It
drives one mad at times. Superstition--you knock into it whichever
way you turn. The Oriental accepts my medicines kowtowing, and when
my back is turned, chucks the stuff out of the window and burns
joss-sticks. I hate this part of the world."

"So do I," replied Ruth.

"You have lived over here?"--astonished.

"I was born in the South Seas and I am on my way to America, to an
aunt."

"Well, it's mighty fine of you to break your journey in this
fashion--for someone you don't know, a passer-by."

He held out his dry hard hand into which she placed hers. The
manager had sketched the girl's character, or rather had
interpreted it, from the incidents which had happened since dinner.
"You will find her new." New? That did not describe her. Here,
indeed, was a type with which he had never until now come into
contact--a natural woman. She would be extraordinarily interesting
as a metaphysical study. She would be surrendering to all her
impulses--particularly the good impulses--many of which society had
condemned long since because they entailed too much trouble.
Imagine her, putting herself to all this delay and inconvenience
for a young wastrel she did not know and who, the moment he got on
his feet, would doubtless pass out of her life without so much as
Thank you! And it was ten to one that she would not comprehend the
ingratitude. To such characters, fine actions are in themselves
sufficient.

Perhaps her odd beauty--and that too was natural--stirred these
thoughts into being. Ashen blonde, a shade that would never excite
the cynical commentary which men applied to certain types of
blondes. It would be protective; it would with age turn to silver
unnoticeably. A disconcerting gray eye that had a mystifying depth.
In the artificial light her skin had the tint and lustre of a
yellow pearl. She would be healthy, too, and vigorous. Not the
explosive vigour of the north-born, but that which would quietly
meet physical hardships and bear them triumphantly.

All this while he was arranging the medicines on the stand and
jotting down his instructions on a chart sheet. He had absorbed her
in a single glance, and was now defining her as he worked. After a
while he spoke again.

"Our talking will not bother him. He will be some time in this
comatose state. Later, there will be fever, after I've got his
heart pumping. Now, he must have folks somewhere. I'm going through
his pockets. It's only right that his people should know where he
is and what has happened to him."

But he searched in vain. Aside from some loose coin and a trunk
key, there was nothing in the pockets: no mail, no letter of
credit, not even a tailor's label. Immediately he grasped the fact
that there was drama here, probably the old drama of the fugitive.
He folded the garments carefully and replaced them on the chair.

"I'm afraid we'll have to dig into his trunk," he said. "There's
nothing in his clothes. Perhaps I ought not to; but this isn't a
case to fiddle-faddle over. Will you stand by and watch me?"

The contents of the trunk only thickened the fog. Here again the
clothes were minus the labels. All the linen was new and stamped
with the mark of Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co., British merchants with
branches all over the East. At the bottom of the trunk was a large
manila envelope, unmarked. The doctor drew out the contents
hopefully.

"By George!" he exclaimed. "Manuscripts! Why, this chap is a
writer, or is trying to be. And will you look! His name neatly cut
out from each title page. This is clear over my head."

"A novelist?" cried Ruth, thrilling. And yet the secondary emotion
was one of suspicion. That a longing of hers should be realized in
this strange fashion was difficult to believe: it vaguely suggested
something of a trap.

"Or trying to be," answered the doctor. "Evidently he could not
destroy these children of his. No doubt they've all been rejected;
but he couldn't throw them overboard. I suspect he has a bit of
vanity. I'll tell you what. I'll leave these out, and to-morrow you
can read them through. Somewhere you may stumble upon a clew to his
identity. To-morrow I'll wire Cook's and the American Express in
Hong-Kong to see if there is any mail. Taber is the name. What is
he--English or American?"

"American. What is a Yale man?"

"Did he say he was a Yale man?"

"He and Ah Cum were talking...."

"I see. Ah Cum is a Yale man and so is this Taber."

"But what is it?"

"An American university. Now, I'll be getting along. Give him his
medicine every half hour. Keep his arms down. I'll have my man Wu
over here as soon as I can get in touch with him. We'll get this
chap on his feet if only to learn what the trouble is."

Downstairs he sought the hotel manager.

"Can you pull him through?" was the anxious question.

"Hope to. The next few hours will tell. But it's an odd case. His
name is Taber?"

"Howard Taber."

"Confidentially, I'm assured that he has another."

"What gives you that idea?"

"Well, we could find no letter of credit, no letters, no labels in
his clothes--not a single clew to his real identity. And stony
broke."

"Not quite," replied the manager. "He left an envelope with some
money in it. Perhaps I'd better open it now." The envelope
contained exactly five hundred dollars. "How long will he be laid
up?"

"Three or four weeks, if he doesn't peg out during the night."

The manager began some computations. "There won't be much left for
you," he said.

"That's usual. There never is much left for me. But I'm not
worrying about that. The thing is to get the patient on his feet.
He may have resources of which we know nothing," the doctor added
optimistically.

"But, I say, that girl is a queer one."

"I shouldn't call her queer. She's fine. She'll be mighty
interesting to watch."

"For an old bachelor?"

"A human old bachelor. Has she any funds?"

"She must have. She's headed for America. Of course, I don't
believe she's what you would call flush. But I'll take care of her
bill, if worst comes to worst. Evidently her foresight has saved me
a funeral. I'll remember that. But "fine" is the word. How the
deuce, though, am I going to account for her? People will be asking
questions when they see her; and if I tell the truth, they'll start
to snubbing her. You understand what I mean. I don't want her hurt.
But we've got to cook up some kind of a story to protect her."

"I hadn't thought of that. It wouldn't do to say that she was from
the hospital. She's too pretty and unusual. Besides, I'm afraid her
simple honesty will spoil any invented yarn. When anybody is
natural, these days, we dub them queer. The contact is disturbing;
and we prefer going around the fact to facing it. Aren't we funny?
And just as I was beginning to lose faith in human beings, to have
someone like this come along! It is almost as if she were acting a
rôle, and she isn't. I'll talk to her in the morning, but she won't
understand what I'm driving at. Born on a South Sea island, she
said."

"Ah! Now I can get a perspective. This is her first adventure. She
isn't used to cities."

"But how in the Lord's name was she brought up? There's a queer
story back of this somewhere."

The manager extended his hands at large, as if to deny any
responsibility in the affair. "Never heard of a sing-song girl;
never heard of a geisha! Flower of the Lotus: the sing-song girl
called her that."

"The White Hollyhock would fit her better. There is something
sensual in the thought of lotus flowers. Hollyhocks make one think
of a bright June Sunday and the way to church!"

"Do you suppose that young fool has done anything?"

The doctor shrugged. "I don't know. I shouldn't care to express an
opinion. I ought to stay the night through; but I'm late now for an
operation at the hospital. Good night."

He departed, musing. How plainly he could see the patch of garden
in the summer sunshine and the white hollyhocks nodding above the
picket fence!

       *       *       *       *       *

Ruth sat waiting for the half hour, subconsciously. Her thoughts
were busy with the possibilities of this break in her journey.
Somebody to depend upon her; somebody to have need of her, if only
for a little while. In all her life no living thing had had to
depend upon her, not even a dog or a cat. All other things were
without weight or consequence before the fact that this poor young
man would have to depend upon her for his life. The amazing tonic
of the thought!

From time to time she laid her hand upon Spurlock's forehead: it
was still cold. But the rise of the chest was quite perceptible
now.

From where had he come, and why? An author! To her he would be no
less interesting because he was unsuccessful. Stories ... love
stories: and to-morrow she would know the joy of reading them! It
was almost unbelievable; it was too good to be true. It filled her
with indefinable fear. Until now none of her prayers had ever been
answered. Why should God give particular attention to such a
prayer, when He had ignored all others? Certainly there was a trap
somewhere.

So, while she watched, distressed and bewildered by her tumbling
thoughts, the packet, Canton bound, ruffled the placid waters of
the Pearl River. In one of the cabins a man sat on the edge of his
narrow bunk. In his muscular pudgy hand was a photograph, frayed at
the corners, soiled from the contact of many hands: the portrait of
a youth of eighteen.

The man was thick set, with a bright roving eye. The blue jaws
suggested courage and tenacity. It was not a hard face, but it was
resolute. As he balanced the photograph, a humorous twinkle came
into his eyes.

Pure luck! If the boy had grown a moustache or a beard, a needle in
the haystack would have been soft work. To stumble upon the trail
through the agency of a bottle of whisky! Drank queer; so his
bottle had rendered him conspicuous. And now, only twenty-four
hours behind him ... that is, if he wasn't paddling by on the
return route to Hong-Kong or had dropped down to Macao. But that
possibility had been anticipated. He would have to return to
Hong-Kong; and his trail would be picked up the moment he set foot
on the Praya.

Pure luck! But for that bottle of whisky, nobody in the Hong-Kong
Hotel would have been able to identify the photograph; and at this
hour James Boyle O'Higgins would have been on the way to Yokohama,
and the trail lost for ever.

Ho-hum!



CHAPTER IX


The Hong-Kong packet lay alongside the warehouse frontage. Ah Cum
patrolled the length of the boat innumerable times, but never
letting his glance stray far from the gangplank. This was
automatically rather than thoughtfully done; habit. His mind was
busy with a résumé of yesterday's unusual events.

The young man desperately ill and the girl taking care of him! Of
course, there could be only one ending to such a bout with liquor,
and that ending had come perhaps suddenly but not surprisingly. But
the girl stood outside the circle of Ah Cum's knowledge--rather
profound--of human impulses. Somehow logic could not explain her.
Why should she trouble herself over that young fool, who was
nothing to her; who, when he eventually sobered up, would not be
able to recognize her, or if he did, as something phantasmagorical?

Perhaps he should not apply the term "fool"; "unfortunate" might be
the more accurate application. Besides, he was a Yale man. He might
be unfortunate, but he would scarcely be a fool. The Yale spirit!
Ah Cum smiled whimsically. After fifteen years, to find that
peculiarly Occidental attribute--college loyalty--still alive in
his heart! A Western idea that had survived; an idea that was
merely the flower of youthful enthusiasm!

With his hands still in his sleeves, his chin down in speculation
over this phenomenon, he continued his patrol.

"Hey, you!"

Ah Cum stopped and turned. Framed in one of the square ports of the
packet was a face which reminded Ah Cum of a Japanese theatrical
mask. One side of the face was white with foamy lather and the
other ruddy-cheeked and blue-jawed.

"Speak English?" boomed the voice.

"Yes; I speak English."

"Fine! I'll be wanting a guide. Where can I get one?" asked
O'Higgins.

"I am one."

"All right. I'll be with you in a jiffy." Quarter of an hour later
O'Higgins stepped off the gangplank. He carried a small bag. "This
your regular business?"

"For the present. Will you be wanting me alone?" asked Ah Cum. "I
generally take a party."

"What'll it cost to have you all to myself for the day?"

Ah Cum named the sum. He smiled inwardly. Here was one of those
Americans who would make him breathless before sundown. The booming
voice and the energetic movements spoke plainly of hurry.

"You're on," said O'Higgins. "Now, lead me to a hotel where I can
get breakfast. Wait a moment. I've got an address here."

O'Higgins emptied an inside pocket--and purposely let the battered
photograph fall to the ground. He pretended to be unaware of the
mishap. Politely Ah Cum stooped and recovered the photograph. He
rose slowly and extended it. An ancient smile lay on his lips.

"You dropped this, sir."

"Oh. Thanks." O'Higgins, bitten with disappointment, returned the
photograph to his pocket. "Victoria; that's the hotel."

"That's but a short distance from here, sir."

"O'Higgins is the name."

"Mr. O'Higgins. Let me take the satchel, sir."

"It's light. I'll tote it myself. Say, ever see any one resembling
that photograph I dropped?"

"So many come and go," said Ah Cum, shrugging. "Few stay more than
a day. And there are other guides."

"Uh-huh. Well, let's beat it to the hotel. I'm hungry."

"This way, sir."

"What's your name?"

Ah Cum got out his black-bordered card and offered it.

"Aw Come. That sounds kind of funny," said O'Higgins. Smiling, the
Chinaman gave the correct pronunciation. "I see. Ah Coom. What's
the idea of the black border?"

"My father recently died, sir."

"But that style isn't Oriental."

"I was educated in America."

"Where?"

"At Yale."

"Well, well! This part of the world is jammed full of surprises. I
met a Hindu a few weeks ago who was a Harvard man."

"Will you be taking a pole-chair?"

"If that's the racket. I naturally want to do it up in proper
style."

"Very well, sir. I'll be outside the hotel at nine-thirty."

Ten minutes' walk brought them to the hotel. As O'Higgins signed
the hotel register, his keen glance took in the latest signatures.

"Anywhere," he said in answer to the manager's query. "I'm not
particular about rooms. Where's the dining room? And, say, can I
have some eggs? This jam-tea breakfast gets my goat."

"Come this way, Mr. O'Higgins," said the manager, amusedly.

O'Higgins followed him into the dining room. That register would be
easy to get at; comforting thought. It did not matter in the least
what name the young fellow was travelling under; all James Boyle
O'Higgins wanted was the letter H. There was something fatalistic
about the letter H. The individual twist was always there, even in
the cleverest forgeries.

The eggs were all right, but nobody in this part of the world had
the least conception of what the coffee bean was for. Always as
black and bitter as gall. Coffee à la Turque wasn't so bad; but a
guy couldn't soak his breakfast toast in it.

Two women entered and sat down at the adjoining table. After a
while one began to talk.

"The manager says there is still some doubt. The change will come
to-day. Ah Cum had no business taking him into the city last night.
The young man did not know what he was doing or where he was."

O'Higgins extracted a cigar from a pocket and inspected it. Henry
Clay, thirteen cents in Hong-Kong and two-bits in that dear old New
York. He would never be able to figure out that: all these miles
from Cuba, and you could get a perfecto for thirteen cents. He
heard the woman talking again.

"I feel guilty, going away and leaving that ignorant child; but our
days have been so planned that we dare not change the schedule.
Didn't understand me when I said she would be compromised! He won't
be able to leave his bed under four weeks; and she said she hadn't
much money. If she had once known him, if he were some former
neighbour, it would be comprehensible. But an individual she never
laid eyes on day before yesterday! And the minute he gets up, he'll
head for the public bar. There's something queer about that young
man; but we'll never be able to find out what it is. I don't
believe his name is Taber."

O'Higgins tore free the scarlet band of his perfecto, the end of
which he bit off with strong white teeth, and smiled. You certainly
had to hand it to these Chinks. Picked up the photograph, looked at
it, handed it back, and never batted an eye! The act was as clear
as daylight, but the motive was as profoundly mysterious as the
race itself. He hadn't patrolled old Pell Street as a plain clothes
man without getting a glimmer of the ancient truth that East is
East and West is West. He would have some sport with Mr. Ah Cum
before the day was over, slyly baiting him. But what had young
Spurlock done for Ah Cum in the space of twenty-four hours that had
engaged Ah Cum's loyalty, not only engaged it but put it on guard?
For O'Higgins, receiving light from the next table, had no doubt
regarding the identity of the subject of this old maid's
observations.

A queer game this: he could not move directly as in an ordinary
case of man-hunt. He had certain orders from which on no account
was he to deviate. But this made the chase all the more exciting.
What was the matter with Spurlock that was to keep him in bed three
or four weeks? He would dig that out of the hotel manager. Anyhow,
there was some pleasurable satisfaction in knowing where the quarry
would be for the next three weeks.

There was now a girl in the picture, so it seemed. Well, this was
the side of the world where things like that happened. The boy
would naturally attract the women, if the women were at all
romantic. Good looks, with a melancholy cast, always drew
sentimental females. Probably some woman on the loose; they were as
thick as flies over here--dizzy blondes. That is, if Spurlock had
been throwing money about, which was more than likely.

"As long as I live, I'll never forget that dress of hers," Prudence
declared.

"Out of a family album, you said," Angelina reminded her sister.

O'Higgins struck a match and lit his Henry Clay, thereby drawing
upon himself the mutual disapproval of the spinsters.

"Beg pardon," he said, "but isn't smoking allowed in the dining
room?"

"It probably is," answered Prudence, "but that in no wise mitigates
the odiousness of the procedure."

"Plumb in the eye!" said O'Higgins, rising. "I'll tote the
odiousness outside."

He was delighted to find the office deserted. He inspected the
formidable array of rifles and at length walked over to the
register. Howard Taber. From his wallet he brought forth a yellow
letter. Quickly he compared the Hs. They were so nearly alike that
the difference would be due to a shaky hand. But for perfect
satisfaction, he must take a peek into the bedroom. Humph. A crisis
of some kind was toward. It might be that the boy had taken one
drink too many, or someone had given him knock-out drops. The
Oriental waterfronts were rank with the stuff.

But that Chink, Ah Cum! O'Higgins chuckled as he passed into the
hall and rested his hand on the newel-post of the staircase. He'd
have some fun with that Chinaman before the morning was out.

O'Higgins mounted the stairs, his step extraordinarily light for
one so heavy. In the upper hall he paused to listen. There was
absolute quiet. Boldly he turned the knob of a certain door and
entered. The mock astonishment of his face immediately became
genuine.

The brilliant sunshine poured through the window, effecting an
oblong block of mote-swimming light. In the midst of this light
stood a young woman. To O'Higgins--for all his sordid business he
was not insensible to beauty--to O'Higgins she appeared to have
entered the room with the light. Above her head was an aura of
white fire. The sunshine broke across each shoulder, one lance
striking the yellow face of a Chinaman, queueless and dressed in
European clothes, the other lance falling squarely upon the face of
the man he had journeyed thirteen thousand miles to find. He
recognized the face instantly.

There came to O'Higgins the discouraging knowledge that upon the
heels of a wonderful chase--blindman's buff in the dark--would come
a stretch of dull inaction. He would have to sit down here in
Canton and wait, perhaps for weeks. Certainly he could not move now
other than to announce the fact that he had found his man.

"I beg pardon," he said. "Got the rooms mixed."

The young woman laid a finger on her lips, cautioning O'Higgins to
silence. The detective backed out slowly and closed the door
without sound.

Outside in the hall he paused and thoughtfully stroked his smooth
blue chin. As he understood it, folks saw in two or three days all
there was to see of Canton. After the sights he would have to
twiddle his thumbs until the joints cracked. All at once he saw a
way out of the threatening doldrums. Some trustworthy Chinaman to
watch, for a small bribe, while he, James Boyle O'Higgins, enjoyed
himself in Hong-Kong, seeing the spring races, the boxing matches,
and hobnobbing with Yankee sailors. Canton was something like a
blind alley; unless you were native, you couldn't get anywhere
except by returning to Hong-Kong and starting afresh.

Satisfied that he had solved his difficulty, he proceeded to his
room. At nine-thirty he climbed into the chair and signified to Ah
Cum that he was ready.

"You speak English better than I do," said O'Higgins, as the
coolies jogged across the bridge toward the gate. "Where did you
pick it up?"

"I believe I told you; at Yale."

O'Higgins laughed. "I'd forgotten. But that explains everything."

"Everything." It was not uttered interrogatively; rather as though
Ah Cum did not like the significance of the word and was turning it
over and about in speculation.

"Ye-ah," said O'Higgins, jovially. "Why you pretended not to
recognize the photograph of the young fellow you toted around these
diggings all day yesterday."

Many wrinkles appeared at the corners of Ah Cum's slant eyes--as if
the sun hurt--but the rest of his face remained as passive as a
graven Buddha's.



CHAPTER X


Ah Cum was himself puzzled. Why hadn't he admitted that he
recognized the photograph? What instinct had impelled him swiftly
to assume his Oriental mask?

"Why?" asked O'Higgins. "What's the particular dope?"

"If I told you, you would laugh," answered Ah Cum, gravely.

"No; I don't think I'd laugh. You never saw him before yesterday.
Why should you want to shield him?"

"I really don't know."

"Because he said he was a Yale man?"

"That might be it."

"Treated you like a white man there, did they?"

"Like a gentleman."

"All right. I had that coming. I didn't think. But, holy smoke!--the
Yale spirit in...."

"A Chinaman. I wonder. I spent many happy days there. Perhaps it
was the recollection of those happy days. You are a detective?"

"Yes. I have come thirteen thousand miles for this young fellow;
I'm ready to go galloping thirteen thousand more."

"You have extradition papers?"

"What sort of a detective do you think I am?" countered O'Higgins.

"Then his case is hopeless."

"Absolutely."

"I'm sorry. He does not look the criminal."

"That's the way it goes. You never can tell." There was a pause.
"They tell me over here that the average Chinaman is honest."

Ah Cum shrugged. "Yes?"

"And that when they give their word, they never break it."
O'Higgins had an idea in regard to Ah Cum.

"Your tone suggests something marvellous in the fact," replied Ah
Cum, ironically. "Why shouldn't a Chinaman be honest? Ah, yes; I
know. Most of you Americans pattern all Chinese upon those who fill
a little corner in New York. In fiction you make the Chinese
secretive, criminal, and terrible--or comic. I am an educated
Chinese, and I resent the imputations against my race. You
Americans laugh at our custom of honouring our ancestors, our
many-times great grandfathers. On the other hand, you seldom revere
your immediate grandfather, unless he has promised to leave you some
money."

"Bull's eye!" piped O'Higgins.

"Of course, there is a criminal element, but the percentage is no
larger than that in America or Europe. Why don't you try to find
out how the every-day Chinese lives, how he treats his family, what
his normal habits are, his hopes, his ambitions? Why don't you come
to China as I went to America--with an open mind?"

"You're on," said O'Higgins, briskly. "I'll engage you for four
days. To-day is for the sights; the other three days--lessons.
How's that strike you?"

"Very well, sir. At least I can give you a glimmer." A smile broke
the set of Ah Cum's lips. "I'll take you into a Chinese home. We
are very poor, but manage to squeeze a little happiness out of each
day."

"And I promise that all you tell me and show me will sink in,"
replied O'Higgins, frankly interested. "I'm a detective; my ears
and eyes have been trained to absorb all I see and all I hear. When
I absorb a fact, my brain weighs the fact carefully and stores it
away. You fooled me this morning; but I overheard two old maids
talking about you and the young man."

"What has he done?"

"What did he have to drink over here last night?"

"Not even water. No doubt he has been drinking for days without
eating substantially, and his heart gave out."

"What happened?"

Ah Cum recounted the story of the sing-song girl. "I had to give in
to him. You know how stubborn they get."

"Surest thing you know. Bought the freedom of a sing-song girl; and
all the while you knew you'd have to tote the girl back. But the
Yale spirit!"

Ah Cum laughed.

"I've got a proposition to make," said O'Higgins.

"So long as it is open and above board."

"It's that, but it interferes with the college spirit stuff. Would
a hundred dollars interest you?"

"Very much, if I can earn it without offending my conscience."

"It won't. Here goes. I've come all these miles for this young
fellow; but I don't cotton to the idea of lallygagging four weeks
in this burg. I've an idea it'll be that long before the chap gets
up. My proposition is for you to keep an eye on him, and the moment
he puts on his clothes to send me a telegram, care of the Hong-Kong
Hotel. Understand me. Double-crossing wouldn't do any good. For all
you might know, I might have someone watching you. This time he
couldn't get far. He will have to return to Hong-Kong."

"Not necessarily. There is a railroad."

"He won't be taking that. The only safe place for him is at sea;
and if he had kept to the sea, I shouldn't have found him so
easily. Well, what about it?"

"I accept."

"As an honest Chinaman?"--taking out the offensiveness of the query
by smiling.

"As an honest Chinaman."

O'Higgins produced his wallet. "Fifty now and fifty when I return."

"Agreed. Here are the jade carvers. Would you like to see them at
work?"

"Lead on, Macduff!"

Ah Cum raised the skirt of his fluttering blue silk robe and stored
the bill away in a trouser wallet. It was the beginning and the end
of the transaction. When he finally telegraphed his startling
information to Hong-Kong, it was too late for O'Higgins to act. The
quarry had passed out into the open sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

From the comatose state, Spurlock passed into that of the babbling
fever; but that guarding instinct which is called subconsciousness
held a stout leash on his secret. He uttered one word over and
over, monotonously:

"Fool! ... Fool!"

But invariably the touch of Ruth's hand quieted him, and his head
would cease to roll from side to side. He hung precariously on the
ragged edge, but he hung there. Three times he uttered a phrase:

"A djinn in a blue-serge coat!"

And each time he would follow it with a chuckle--the chuckle of a
soul in damnation.

Neither the American Express nor Cook's had received mail for
Howard Taber; he was not on either list. This was irregular. A man
might be without relatives, but certainly he would not be without
friends, that is to say, without letters. The affair was thick with
sinister suggestions. And yet, the doctor recalled an expression of
the girl's: that it was not a dissipated face, only troubled.

The whole affair interested him deeply. That was one of the
compensations for having consigned himself to this part of the
world. Over here, there was generally some unusual twist to a case.
He would pull this young fellow back; but later he knew that he
would have to fight the boy's lack of will to live. When he
recovered his mental faculties, he would lie there, neutral; they
could save him or let him die, as they pleased; and the doctor knew
that he would wear himself out forcing his own will to live into
this neutrality. And probably the girl would wear herself out, too.

To fight inertia on the one hand and to study this queer girl on
the other. Any financial return was inconsiderable against the
promise of this psychological treat. The girl was like some
north-country woodland pool, penetrated by a single shaft of
sunlight--beautifully clear in one spot and mysteriously obscured
elsewhere. She would be elemental; there would be in her somewhere
the sleeping tigress. The elemental woman was always close to the
cat: as the elemental man was always but a point removed from the
wolf.

It was so arranged that Ruth went on duty after breakfast and
remained until noon. The afternoon was her own; but from eight
until midnight she sat beside the patient. At no time did she feel
bodily or mental fatigue. Frequently she would doze in her chair;
but the slightest movement on the bed aroused her.

At luncheon, on the third day, a thick-set man with a blue jaw
smiled across his table at her. She recognized him as the man who
had blundered into the wrong room.

"How is the patient?" he asked.

"He will live," answered Ruth.

"That's fine," said O'Higgins. "I suppose he'll be on his feet any
day now."

"No. It will take at least three weeks."

"Well, so long as he gets on his feet in the end. You're a friend
of the young man?"

"If you mean did I know him before he became ill, no."

"Ah." O'Higgins revolved this information about, but no angle
emitted light. Basically a kindly man but made cynical and derisive
by sordid contacts, O'Higgins had almost forgotten that there was
such a thing as unselfishness. The man or woman who did something
for nothing always excited his suspicions; they were playing some
kind of a game. "You mean you were just sorry for him?"

"As I would be for any human being in pain."

"Uh-huh." For the life of him, O'Higgins could not think of
anything else to say. Just because she was sorry for that young
fool! "Uh-huh," he repeated, rising and bowing as he passed Ruth's
table. He wished he had the time to solve this riddle, for it was a
riddle, and four-square besides. Back in the States young women did
not offer to play the Good Samaritan to strange young fools whom
Jawn D. Barleycorn had sent to the mat for the count of nine:
unless the young fool's daddy had a bundle of coin. Maybe the girl
was telling the truth, and then again, maybe she wasn't.

The situation bothered him considerably. Things happened frequently
over here that wouldn't happen in the States once in a hundred
years. Who could say that the two weren't in collusion? When a chap
like Spurlock jumped the traces, _cherchez la femme_, every time.
He hadn't gambled or played the horses or hit the booze back there
in little old New York....

"Aw, piffle!" he said, half aloud and rather disgustedly, as he
stepped out into the sunshine. "My old coco is disintegrating. I've
bumped into so much of the underside that I can't see clean any
more. No girl with a face like that.... And yet, dang it! I've seen
'em just as innocent looking that were prime vipers. Let's get to
Hong-Kong, James, and hit the high spots while there is time."

He signalled to Ah Cum; and the two of them crossed on foot into
the city.

It was not until the morning of the fifth day that the constant
vigil was broken. The patient fell into a natural and refreshing
sleep. So Ruth found that for a while her eyes were free. She
tiptoed to the stand and gathered up the manuscripts which she
carried to a chair by the window. Since the discovery of them, she
had been madly eager to read these typewritten tales. Treasure
caves to explore!

All through these trying days she had recurrently wondered what
this strange young man would have to say that Dickens and Hugo had
not already said. That was the true marvel of it. No matter how
many books one read, each was different, as each human being was
different. Some had the dignity and the aloofness of a rock in the
sea; and others were as the polished pebbles on the sands--one saw
the difference of pebble from pebble only by close scrutiny. Ruth,
without suspecting it, had fallen upon a fundamental truth: that
each and every book fitted into the scheme of human moods and
intelligence.

Ruth was at that stage where the absorption of facts is great, but
where the mental digestion is not quite equal to the task. She was
acquiring truths, but in a series of shocks rather than by the
process of analysis.

There were seven tales in all--short stories--a method of
expression quite strange to her, after the immense canvases of
Dickens and Hugo. When she had finished the first tale, there was a
sense of disappointment. She had expected a love story; and love
was totally absent. It was a tale of battle, murder, and sudden
death on the New York waterfront. Sordid; but that was not Ruth's
term for it; she had no precise commentary to offer.

From time to time she would come upon a line of singular beauty or
a paragraph full of haunting music; and these would send her
rushing on for something that never happened. Each manuscript was
like the other: the same lovely treatment of an unlovely subject.
Abruptly would come the end. It was as if she had come upon the
beautiful marble façade of a fairy palace, was invited to enter,
and behind the door--nothing.

She did not realize that she was offering criticisms. The word
"criticism" had no concrete meaning to her then; no more than
"compromise." Some innate sense of balance told her that something
was wrong with these tales. She could not explain in words why they
disappointed her or that she was disappointed.

Two hours had come and gone during this tantalizing occupation. At
the least, the tales had the ability to make her forget where she
was; which was something in their favour.

"My coat!"

Ruth did not move but stared astonishedly at the patient.

"My coat!" he repeated, his glance burning into hers.

[Illustration: _Distinctive Pictures Corporation. The Ragged Edge._
A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY.]



CHAPTER XI


The second call energized her into action. She dropped the
manuscripts and swiftly brought the coat to him, noting that a
button hung loose. Later, she would 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 realm of strange fancies. Wanting his coat, when he must
have known that the pockets were empty! But the effort to talk had
cost him something. The performance over, he relaxed and closed his
eyes. Even as she watched, the sweat of weakness began to form on
his forehead and under the nether lip. She wet some absorbent
cotton with alcohol and refreshed his face and neck. This done, she
waited at the side of the bed; but he gave no sign that he was
conscious of her nearness.

The poor boy, wanting his empty coat! The incident, however, caused
her to review the recent events. It was now evident that he had not
been normal that first day. Perhaps he had had money in the coat,
back in Hong-Kong, and had been robbed without knowing it. Perhaps
these few words were the first real conscious words he had uttered
in days. His letter of credit; probably that was it; and, observing
the strangeness of the room he was in, his first concern on
returning to consciousness would naturally relate to his letter of
credit. How would he act when he learned that it had vanished?

She gathered up the manuscripts and restored them to the envelope.
This she put into the trunk. She noticed that this trunk was not
littered with hotel labels. These little squares of coloured paper
interested her mightily--hotel labels. She was for ever scanning
luggage and finding her way about the world, via these miniature
pictures. London, Paris, Rome! There were no hotel labels on the
patient's trunk, but there were ship labels; and by these she was
able to 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 world outside!

She stood motionless beside the trunk, deep in speculation; and
thus the doctor found her.

"Well?" he whispered.

"I believe he is conscious," she answered. "He just asked for his
coat, which he wanted under his pillow."

"Conscious; well, that's good news. He'll be able to help us a
little now. I hope 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 from contact."

"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 notice things, I want you to trap his interest, to amuse him,
keep his thoughts from reverting to his misfortunes."

"Then he has been unfortunate?"

"That's patent enough. He's had a hard knock somewhere; and until
he is strong enough 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 great help these five days; for he had to have attendance
constantly, and neither Wu nor I could have given that. And yet,
when you offered to help, it was what is to 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 you afford 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 loses faith, and I find myself back on solid ground once
more. Is there anything you'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 see that. 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 the Sha-mien; and we can talk all we want."

"I was never going to tell anybody," she added. "But you are a good
man, and you'll understand. I believed I was strong enough to go on
in silence; but I'm human like everybody else. To tell someone who
is kind and who will understand!"

"There, there!" he said. There was a hint of tears in her voice.
"That's all right. We'll get together this afternoon; and you can
pretend that I am your father."

"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 for you after lunch."

"I'm sorry."

She began to prepare the room for Wu's coming, while the doctor
went downstairs. 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 you took him into the city?"

"No. He appeared to be strangely uncommunicative, though I tried to
draw him out. 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
white man?"

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 was doing?"

"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 a Chinaman; he had given it, so he must abide. There was
now no honest way of warning Taber that the net had been drawn. Of
course, it was ridiculous, this inclination to assist the fugitive,
based as it was upon an intangible university idea. And yet,
mulling it over, he began to understand why the white man was so
powerful in the world: he was taught loyalty and fair play in his
schools, and he carried this spirit the world which his forebears
had conquered.

Suddenly Ah Cum laughed aloud. He, a Chinaman, troubling himself
over Occidental 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 of books and magazines. There was an air of repressed
gaiety in her actions: the sense of freedom had returned; her heart
was empty again. The burden of decision had been transferred.

And because he knew it was a burden, there was no gaiety upon the
doctor's face; neither was there speech on his tongue. He knew not
how to act, urged as he was in two directions. It would be useless
to tell her to go back, even heartless; and yet he could not advise
her to go on, blindly, not knowing whether her aunt was dead or
alive. He was also aware that all his arguments would shatter
themselves against her resolutions. There was a strange quality of
steel in this pretty creature. He understood now that it was a part
of her inheritance. The father would be all steel. One point in her
narrative stood out 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 his sojourn in China, it was basic
of the child's unhappiness. A dozen words, and he 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 nor the impulse; and this child, in secret rebellion,
taking it down in long hand during odd hours in the week! Preaching
grandiloquently before a few score natives who understood little
beyond the gestures, for the single purpose of warding off
disintegration! It reminded the doctor of a stubborn retreat; from
barricade to barricade, grimly fighting to keep the enemy at bay,
that insidious enemy of the white man in the South Seas--inertia.

The drunken beachcombers; the one-sided education; the utter
loneliness of a white child without playfellows, human or animal,
without fairy stories, who for days was left alone while the father
visited neighbouring islands, these pictures sank far below their
actual importance. He would always see the picture of the huge,
raw-boned Dutchman, haranguing and thundering the word of God into
the dull ears of South Sea Islanders, who, an hour later, would be
carrying 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 as much as through pity. The grim mockery of
it!--those South Sea loafers, taking advantage of Enschede's
Christianity and imposing upon him, accepting his money and
medicines and laughing behind his back! No doubt they made the name
a 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. But Enschede took them as they came,
without question. Charity for the ragtag and the 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's actions, something of which the girl knew nothing nor
suspected. It would not be possible otherwise to live in daily
contact with this level-eyed, lovely girl without loving her.
Something with iron resolve the father had kept hidden all these
years in the lonely citadel of his heart. Teaching the word of God
to the recent cannibal, caring for the sick, storming the
strongholds of the plague, adding his own private income to the
pittance allowed him by the Society, and never seeing the angel
that walked at his side! Something the girl 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 first hour she could remember, to the night she had
fled in the proa, a clear sustained narrative. And through it all,
like a golden thread on a piece of tapestry, 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 blame you 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 expected you, 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 second part would overcome his objections? Several times the
words had rushed to her tongue, to find her tongue paralysed. To a
woman she might have confided; but to this man, kindly as he was,
it was unthinkable. How could she tell him of the evil that drew
her and drew her, as a needle to the magnet?--the fascinating evil
that even now, escaped as it was, went on distilling its poison in
her mind?

"Yes, yes!" said the doctor. "But if you do not find this aunt,
what will you do? 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, I might 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 you in until you are full-fledged, providing you do not find
this aunt. You say you have twenty-four hundred in your letter of
credit. It will not cost you more than six hundred to reach your
destination. The pearls were really yours?"

"They were left to me by my mother. I sometimes laid away my
father's clothes in his trunk. I saw the metal box a hundred times,
but I never thought of opening it until the day I fled. I never
even burrowed down into the trunk. I had 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 a padlock. 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 returned from the
neighbouring island. At the bottom of the trunk I found two of my
mother's dresses. I packed them with the other few things I owned.
Morgan the trader did not haggle over the pearls, but gave me at
once what he judged a fair price. You will wonder why he did not
hold the pearls until Father returned. I didn't understand then,
but I do now. It was partly to pay a grudge 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 of age."

"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 a graybeard, an old bachelor; so I am accorded certain
privileges. Sometimes I am frightfully busy; and then there will be
periods of dullness. I have a few regular 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 of view you're
likely to meet. You are queerly educated; and it strikes me that
your father had some definite purpose in thus educating you. I'll
try to fill in the gaps."

The girl's eyes filled. "I wonder if you will understand what this
kindness means to me? I am so terribly wise--and so wofully
ignorant!"



CHAPTER XII


The doctor shifted his books and magazines to the crook of his
elbow. He had done this a dozen times on the way from his office.
Books were always sliding and slipping, clumsy objects to hold.
Looking at this girl, a sense of failure swept over him. He had not
been successful as the world counted success; the fat bank-account,
the filled waiting room of which he had once dreamed, had never
materialized except in the smoke of his evening pipe.

And yet he knew that his skill was equal to that of any fashionable
practitioner in Hong-Kong. He wasn't quite hard enough to win
worldly success; that was his fault. Anybody in pain had only to
call to him. So, here he was, on the last lap of middle age, in
China, having missed all the thrills in life except one--the war
against Death. It rather astonished him. He hadn't followed this
angle of thought in ten years: what he might have been, with a
little shrewd selfishness. This extraordinary child had opened up
an old channel through which it was no longer safe to cruise. She
was like an angel with one wing. The simile started a laugh in his
throat.

"Why do you laugh?" she asked gravely.

"At a thought. Of you--an angel with one wing."

"Meaning that I don't belong anywhere, in heaven or on earth?"

"Meaning that you must cut off the wing or grow another to mate it.
Let's go up and see how the patient is doing. Wu may have news for
us. We'll get those books into your room first. And I'll have
supper with you."

"If only...." But she did not complete the thought aloud. If only
this man had been her father! The world would have meant nothing;
the island would have been wide enough.

"You were saying--?"

"I started to say something; that is all."

"By the way, did you read those stories?"

"Yes."

"Worth anything?"

"I don't know."

"Silly love stories?"

"No; love wasn't the theme. Supposing you take them and read them?
You might be able to tell me why I felt disappointed."

"All right. I'll take them back with me. Probably he has something
to say and can't say it, or he writes well about nothing."

"Do you believe his failure caused...."

"What?" he barked. But he did not follow on with the thought. There
was no need of sowing suspicion when he wasn't really certain there
were grounds for it. "Well, you never can tell," he continued,
lamely. "These writer chaps are queer birds."

"Queer birds."

He laughed and followed her into the hotel. "More slang," he said.
"I'll have to set you right on that, too."

"I have heard sailors use words like that, but I never knew what
they meant."

Sailors, he thought; and most of them the dregs of the South Seas,
casting their evil glances at this exquisite creature and trying to
smirch with innuendo the crystal clearness of her mind. Perhaps
there were experiences she would never confide to any man. Sudden
indignation boiled up in him. The father was a madman. It did not
matter that he wore the cloth; something was wrong with him. He
hadn't played fair.

"Remember; we must keep the young fellow's thoughts away from
himself. Tell him about the island, the coconut dance, the wooden
tom-toms; read to him."

"What made him buy that sing-song girl?" Regarding this, Ruth had
ideas of her own, but she wanted the doctor's point of view.

"Maybe he realized that he was slipping fast and thought a fine
action might give him a hand-hold on life again. You tell me he
didn't like the stuff."

"He shuddered when he drank."

"Well, that's a hopeful sign. I'll test him out later; see if there
is any craving. Give me the books. I'll put them in your room; then
we'll have a look-see."

The patient was asleep. According to Wu, the young man had not
opened his eyes once during the afternoon.

So Ruth returned to her room and sorted the books and magazines the
doctor had loaned her, inspected the titles and searched for
pictures. And thus it was that she came upon a book of Stevenson's
verse--her first adventure into poetry. The hymnal lyrics had never
stirred her; she had memorized and sung them parrot-wise. But here
was new music, tender and kindly and whimsical, that first roved to
and fro in the mind and then cuddled up in the heart. Anything that
had love in it!

The doctor comprehended that he also had his work cut out. While
the girl kept the patient from dwelling upon his misfortunes,
whatever these were, he himself would have to keep the girl from
brooding over hers. So he made merry at the dinner table, told
comic stories, and was astonished at the readiness with which she
grasped the comic side of life. His curiosity put itself into a
question.

"Old Morgan the trader," she explained, "used to save me _Tit-Bits_.
He would read the jokes and illustrate them; and after a
time I could see the point of a joke without having it explained to
me. I believe it amused him. I was a novelty. He was always in a
state of semi-intoxication, but he was always gentle with me.
Probably he taught me what a joke was merely to irritate my father;
for suddenly Father stopped my going to the store for things and
sent our old Kanaka cook instead. She had been to San Francisco,
and what I learned about the world was from her. Thank you for the
books."

"You were born on the island?"

"I believe so."

"You don't remember your mother?"

"Oh, no; she died when I was very little."

She showed him the locket; and he studied the face. It was equally
as beautiful but not quite so fine as the daughter's. He returned
the locket without comment.

"Perhaps things would have been different if she had lived."

"No doubt," he replied. "Mine died while I was over here. Perhaps
that is why I lost my ambition."

"I am sorry."

"It is life."

There was a pause. "He never let me keep a dog or a cat about the
house. But after a time I learned the ways of the parrakeets, and
they would come down to me like doves in the stories. I never made
any effort to touch them; so by and by they learned to light
fearlessly on my arms and shoulders. And what a noise they made!
This is how I used to call them."

She pursed her lips and uttered a whistle, piercingly shrill and
high; and instantly she became the object of intense astonishment
on the part of the other diners. She was quite oblivious to the
sensation she had created.

The picture of her flashed across the doctor's vision magically.
The emerald wings, slashed with scarlet and yellow, wheeling and
swooping about her head, there among the wild plantain.

"I never told anybody," she went on. "An audience might have
frightened the birds. Only in the sunshine; they would not answer
my whistle on cloudy days."

"Didn't the natives have a name for you?"

She blushed. "It was silly."

"Go on, tell me," he urged, enchanted. Never was there another girl
like this one. He blushed, too, spiritually, as it were. He had
invited himself to dine with her merely to watch her table manners.
They were exquisite. Knowing the South Seas from hearsay and by
travel, he knew something of that inertia which blunted the
fineness, innate and acquired, of white men and women, the eternal
warfare against indifference and slovenliness. Only the strong
survived. This queer father of hers had given her everything but
his arms. "Tell me, what did they call you?"

"Well, the old Kanaka cook used to call me the Golden One, but the
natives called me the Dawn Pearl."

"The Dawn Pearl! Odd, but we white folks aren't half so poetical as
the yellow or the black. What did you do when your father went on
trips to other islands?"

"Took off my shoes and stockings and played in the lagoon."

"He made you wear shoes and stockings?"

"Always."

"What else did you do when alone?"

"I read the encyclopaedia. That is how I learned that there were
such things as novels. Books! Aren't they wonderful?"

The blind alley of life stretching out before her, with its secret
doorways and hidden menaces; and she was unconcerned. Books; an
inexplicable hunger to be satisfied. Somewhere in the world there
was a book clerk with a discerning mind; for he had given her the
best he had. He envied her a little. To fall upon those tales for
the first time, when the mind was fresh and the heart was young!

He became aware of an odd phase to this conversation. The
continuity was frequently broken in upon by diversory suppositions.
Take the one that struck him at this moment. Supposing that was it;
at least, a solution to part of this amazing riddle? Supposing her
father had made her assist him in the care of the derelicts solely
to fill her with loathing and abhorrence for mankind?

"Didn't you despise the men your father brought home--the
beachcombers?"

"No. In the beginning was afraid; but after the first several
cases, I had only pity. I somehow understood."

"Didn't some of them ... try to touch you?"

"Not the true unfortunates. How men suffer for the foolish things
they do!"

"Ay to that. There's our young friend upstairs."

"There's a funny idea in my head. I've been thinking about it ever
since morning. There was a loose button on that coat, and I want to
sew it on. It keeps dangling in front of my eyes."

"Ah, yes; that coat. Probably a sick man's whim. Certainly, there
wasn't a thing in the pockets. But be very careful not to let him
know. If he awoke and caught you at it, there might be a set-back.
By the way, what did he say when he was out of his head?"

"The word 'Fool.' He muttered it continually. There was another
phrase which sounded something like 'Gin in a blue-serge coat'. I
wonder what he meant by that?"

"The Lord knows!"

The patient was restless during the first watch of the night. He
stirred continually, thrusting his legs about and flinging his arms
above his head. Gently each time Ruth drew down the arms. There was
a recurrence of fever, but nothing alarming. Once she heard him
mutter, and she leaned down.

"Ali Baba, in a blue-serge coat!... God-forsaken fool!"



CHAPTER XIII


One day Ruth caught the patient's eyes following her about; but
there was no question 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 were probably robbed in Hong-Kong."

"Nothing in the pockets."

"You see, we didn't know but you might die; and so we had to search
your belongings 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, in tenderness, in anger; she would always be answering
impulses, without seeking to weigh or to analyse them. She was
emerging from the primordial as Spurlock was declining toward it.
She was on the rim of civilization, entering, as Spurlock was on
the rim, preparing to make his exit. Two souls in travail; one
inspired by fresh hopes, the other, by fresh despairs. Both of them
would be committing 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 note of 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 we went 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 read beautifully because the fixed form of the poem
signified nothing. She went from period to period exactly as she
would have read prose; so that sense and music were equally
balanced. She read for half an hour, then closed the book because
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 not aware 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 you write 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 the doctor's warning that the real battle would begin
when the patient recovered consciousness. "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 out of his profound knowledge of life, her interest would
break away continually, despite her honest efforts to pin it down
to the facts so patiently elucidated for her. Recurrently she
heard: "I don't know; I really don't know." It was curiously like
the intermittent murmur of the surf, those weird Sundays, when her
father paused for breath to launch additional damnation for those
who disobeyed 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 often what she heard was sound without sense. Still, her face
never betrayed this distraction. And what was singular she did not
recount to the doctor that morning's adventure. Why? If she had put
the query to herself, she could not have answered it. It was in no
sense confessional; it was a state of mind in the 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 puzzled him had he paused to analyse it. There was scant
social life on the Sha-mien aside from masculine foregatherings,
little that interested him. He took his social pleasures once a
year in Hong-Kong, after Easter. He saw, without any particular
regret, that this year he would have to forego the junket; but
there would be ample compensation in the study of these queer
youngsters. Besides, by the time they were off his hands, old
McClintock would be dropping in to have his liver renovated.

All at once he recollected the fact that McClintock's copra
plantation was down that way, somewhere in the South Seas; had an
island of his own. Perhaps he had heard of this Enschede. Mac--the
old gossip--knew about everything going on in that part of the
world; and if Enschede was anything up to the picture the girl had
drawn, McClintock would have heard of him, naturally. He might
solve the riddle. All of which proves that the doctor also had his
moments of distraction, with this difference: he was not distracted
from his subject matter.

"So endeth the first lesson," he said. "Suppose we go and have tea?
I'd like to take you to a teahouse I know, but we'll go to the
Victoria instead. I must practise 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 of fear; 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 of conduct, and then you'll never be in doubt."

She laughed; and it was pleasant laughter in his ears. If only this
child were his: what good times they would have together! The
thought passed on, but it left 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 a phrase."

"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 public opinion. 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 toddle along in them, willy-nilly; and those who
have the courage to step outside the appointed path are called
pariahs!"

"I'm afraid I shall not like this world very much. It is putting
all my dreams out of joint."

"Never let the unknown edge in upon your courage. The world is like
a peppery horse. 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. I don'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't found himself, as they say. He's rewriting Poe and De
Maupassant; and that stuff 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 her shoulders. "Not the sort of stories young ladies should
read. Poe is all right, if you don't mind nightmares. But De
Maupassant--sheer off! Stick to Dickens and Thackeray and Hugo.
Before you go I'll give you a list of books to read."

"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 to make 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 days everything will click back into
place. Great sport, eh? To haul them back from the 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 to us. 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 as by what you see and hear. You must remember, you've just
begun to read; you haven't any comparisons. You mustn't go dressing
up Tom, Dick, and Harry in Henry Esmond's ruffles. What you want to
do is to imagine every woman a Becky Sharp 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 back from where we started. But no more of that. Let's talk
of this chap. There's good stuff in him, if one could find the way
to dig it out. But pathologically, he is still on the edge. Unless
we can get some optimism into him, he'll probably start this all
over again when he gets on his feet. That's the way it goes. But
between us, we'll have him writing books some day. That's one of
the troubles with young folks: they take themselves so seriously.
He probably imagines himself to be a thousand times worse off than
he actually is. 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 too much."

"Do girls have puppy-love?"

"Land sakes, yes! On the average they are worse than the boys. A
boy can forget his amatory troubles playing baseball; but a girl
can't find any particular distraction in doing fancy work. Do you
know, I envy you. All the world before you, all the ologies. What
an adventure! Of course, you'll bark your shins here and there and
hit your funnybone; but the newness of everything will be something
of a compensation. All right. Let's get one idea into our heads. We
are going to have this chap writing books one of these days."

Ideas are never born; they are suggested; they are planted seeds.
Ruth did not reply, 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 as nothing compared to this
seed, cast without forethought. Ruth's mind was fertile 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 a tender
dream was stirring. The hour for which, presumably, she had been
created was drawing nigh. For in life there is but one hour: an
epic or an idyll: 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
the Victoria 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
suggested an idea. It would have been the right idea, had Ruth been
other than what she was. First-off, he had decided not to tell her
what he had found at the bottom of that manila envelope. Now it
occurred to him that to show her the sealed letter would be a
better way. Impressionable, lonely, a deal beyond his analytical
reach, the girl might let her sympathies go beyond those of the
nurse. 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 this one."

He passed it over; and Ruth read:

    To be opened in case of my death and the letter inside
    forwarded to the address thereon. All my personal effects
    to be left in charge of the nearest American Consulate.



CHAPTER XIV


Ruth lost the point entirely. The doctor expected her to seize upon
the subtle inference that there was something furtive, even
criminal, in the manner the patient set this obligation upon
humanity at large, to look after him in the event of his death. The
idea of anything criminal never entered her thoughts. Any man might
have endeavoured to protect himself in this fashion, a man with no
one to care, with an unnameable terror at the thought (as if it
mattered!) of being buried in alien earth, far from the familiar
places he loved.

Close upon this came another thought. She had no place she loved.
In all this world there was no sacred ground that said to her:
Return! She was of all human beings the most lonely. Even now,
during the recurring doubts of the future, the thought of the
island was repellent. She hated it, she hated the mission-house;
she hated the sleek lagoon, the palms, the burning sky. But some
day she would find a place to love: there would be rosy apples on
the boughs, and there would be flurries of snow blowing into her
face. It was astonishing how often this picture returned: cold rosy
apples and flurries of snow.

"The poor young man!" she said.

The doctor sensed that his bolt had gone wrong, but he could not
tell how or why. He dared not go on. He was not sure that the boy
had put himself beyond the pale; merely, the boy's actions pointed
that way. If he laid his own suspicions boldly before the girl, and
in the end the boy came clean, he would always be haunted by the
witless cruelty of the act.

That night in his den he smoked many pipes. Twice he cleaned the
old briar; still there was no improvement. He poured a pinch of
tobacco into his palm and sniffed. The weed was all right. Probably
something he had eaten. He was always forgetting that his tummy was
fifty-four years old.

He would certainly welcome McClintock's advent. Mac would have some
new yarns to spin and a fresh turn-over to his celebrated liver. He
was a comforting, humorous old ruffian; but there were few men in
the Orient more deeply read in psychology and physiognomy. It was,
in a way, something of a joke to the doctor: psychology and
physiognomy on an island which white folks did not visit more than
three or four times a year, only then when they had to. Why did the
beggar hang on down there, when he could have enjoyed all that
civilization had to offer? Yes, he would be mighty glad to see
McClintock; and the sooner he came the better.

Sometimes at sea a skipper will order his men to trim, batten down
the hatches, and clear the deck of all litter. The barometer says
nothing, neither the sky nor the water; the skipper has the "feel"
that out yonder there's a big blow moving. Now the doctor had the
"feel" that somewhere ahead lay danger. It was below consciousness,
elusive; so he sent out a call to his friend, defensively.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the end of each day Ah Cum would inquire as to the progress of
the patient, and invariably the answer was: "About the same." This
went on for ten days. Then Ah Cum was notified that the patient had
sat up in bed for quarter of an hour. Promptly Ah Cum wired the
information to O'Higgins in Hong-Kong. The detective reckoned that
his quarry would be up in ten days more.

To Ruth the thought of Hartford no longer projected upon her vision
a city of spires and houses and tree-lined streets. Her fanciful
imagination no longer drew pictures of the aunt in the doorway of a
wooden house, her arms extended in welcome. The doctor's lessons,
perhaps delivered with too much serious emphasis, had destroyed
that buoyant confidence in her ability to take care of herself.

Between Canton and Hartford two giants had risen, invisible but
menacing--Fear and Doubt. The unknown, previously so attractive,
now presented another face--blank. The doctor had not heard from
his people. She was reasonably certain why. They did not want her.

Thus, all her interest in life began to centre upon the patient,
who was apparently quite as anchorless as she was. Sometimes a
whole morning would pass without Spurlock uttering a word beyond
the request for a drink of water. Again, he would ask a few
questions, and Ruth would answer them. He would repeat them
innumerable times, and patiently Ruth would repeat her answers.

"What is your name?"

"Ruth."

"Ruth what?"

"Enschede; Ruth Enschede."

"En-shad-ay. You are French?"

"No. Dutch; Pennsylvania Dutch."

And then his interest would cease. Perhaps an hour later he would
begin again.

At other times he seemed to have regained the normal completely. He
would discuss something she had been reading, and he would give her
some unexpected angle, setting a fictional character before her
with astonishing clearness. Then suddenly the curtain would fall.

"What is your name?" To-day, however, he broke the monotony. "An
American. Enschede--that's a queer name."

"I'm a queer girl," she replied with a smile.

Perhaps this was the real turning point: the hour in which the
disordered mind began permanently to readjust itself.

"I've been wondering, until this morning, if you were real."

"I've been wondering, too."

"Are you a real nurse?"

"Yes."

"Professional?"

"Why do you wish to know?"

"Professional nurses wear a sort of uniform."

"While I look as if I had stepped out of the family album?"

He frowned perplexedly. "Where did I hear that before?"

"Perhaps that first day, in the water-clock tower."

"I imagine I've been in a kind of trance."

"And now you are back in the world again, with things to do and
places to go. There is a button loose on that coat under your
pillow. Shall I sew it on for you?"

"If you wish."

This readiness to surrender the coat to her surprised Ruth. She had
prepared herself to meet violent protest, a recurrence of that
burning glance. But in a moment she believed she understood. He was
normal now, and the coat was only a coat. It had been his fevered
imagination that had endued the garment with some extraordinary
value. Gently she raised his head and withdrew the coat from under
the pillow.

"Why did I want it under my pillow?" he asked.

"You were a little out of your head."

Gravely he watched the needle flash to and fro. He noted the strong
white teeth as they snipped the thread. At length the task was
done, and she jabbed the needle into a cushion, folded the coat,
and rose.

"Do you want it back under the pillow?"

"Hang it over a chair. Or, better still, put all my clothes in the
trunk. They litter up the room. The key is in my trousers."

This business over, she returned to the bedside with the key. She
felt a little ashamed of herself, a bit of a hypocrite. Every
article in the trunk was fully known to her, through a recounting
of the list by the doctor. To hand the key back in silence was like
offering a lie.

"Put it under my pillow," he said.

Immediately she had spoken of the loose button he knew that
henceforth he must show no concern over the disposition of that
coat. He must not in any way call their attention to it. He must
preserve it, however, as they preserved the Ark of the Covenant. It
was his redemption, his ticket out of hell--that blue-serge coat.
To witness this girl sewing on a loose button, flopping the coat
about on her knees, tickled his ironic sense of humour; and
laughter bubbled into his throat. He smothered it down with such a
good will that the reaction set his heart to pounding. The walls
rocked, the footrail of the bed wavered, and the girl's head had
the nebulosity of a composite photograph. So he shut his eyes.
Presently he heard her voice.

"I must tell you," she was saying. "We went through your
belongings. We did not know where to send ... in case you died.
There was nothing in the pockets of the coat."

"Don't worry about that." He opened his eyes again.

"I wanted you to know. There is nobody, then?"

"Oh, there is an aunt. But if I were dying of thirst, in a desert,
I would not accept a cup of water at her hands. Will you read to
me? I am tired; and the sound of your voice makes me drowsy."

Half an hour later she laid aside the book. He was asleep. She
leaned forward, her chin in her palms, her elbows on her knees, and
she set her gaze upon his face and kept it there in dreamy
contemplation. Supposing he too wanted love and his arms were as
empty as hers?

Some living thing that depended upon her. The doll she had never
owned, the cat and the dog that had never been hers: here they
were, strangely incorporated in this sleeping man. He depended upon
her, for his medicine, for his drink, for the little amusement it
was now permissible to give him. The knowledge breathed into her
heart a satisfying warmth.

At noon the doctor himself arrived. "Go to lunch," he ordered Ruth.
He wanted to talk with the patient, test him variously; and he
wanted to be alone with him while he put these tests. His idea was
to get behind this sustained listlessness. "How goes it?" he began,
heartily. "A bit up in the world again; eh?"

"Why did you bother with me?"

"Because no human being has the right to die. Death belongs to God,
young man."

"Ah." The tone was neutral.

"And had you been the worst scoundrel unhung, I'd have seen to it
that you had the same care, the same chance. But don't thank me;
thank Miss Enschede. She caught the fact that it was something more
than strong drink that laid you out. If they hadn't sent for me,
you'd have pegged out before morning."

"Then I owe my life to her?"

"Positively."

"What do you want me to do?"

The doctor thought this query gave hopeful promise. "Always
remember the fact. She is something different. When I told her that
there were no available nurses this side of Hong-Kong, she offered
her services at once, and broke her journey. And I need not tell
you that her hotel bill is running on the same as yours."

"Do you want me to tell her that I am grateful?"

"Well, aren't you?"

"I don't know; I really don't know."

"Look here, my boy, that attitude is all damned nonsense. Here you
are, young, sound, with a heart that will recover in no time,
provided you keep liquor out of it. And you talk like that! What
the devil have you been up to, to land in this bog?" It was a cast
at random.

His guardian angel warned Spurlock to speak carefully. "I have been
very unhappy."

"So have we all. But we get over it. And you will."

After a moment Spurlock said: "Perhaps I am an ungrateful dog."

"That's better. Remember, if there's anything you'd like to get off
your chest, doctors and priests are in the same boat."

With no little effort--for the right words had a way of tumbling
back out of reach--he marshalled his phrases, and as he uttered
them, closed his eyes to lessen the possibility of a break. "I'm
only a benighted fool; and having said that, I have said
everything. I'm one of those unfortunate duffers who have too much
imagination--the kind who build their own chimeras and then run
away from them. How long shall I be kept in this bed?"

"That's particularly up to you. Ten days should see you on your
feet. But if you don't want to get up, maybe three times ten days."

There had never been, from that fatal hour eight months gone down
to this, the inclination to confess. He had often read about it,
and once he had incorporated it in a story, that invisible force
which sent men to prison and to the gallows, when a tongue
controlled would have meant liberty indefinite. As for himself,
there had never been a touch of it. It was less will than
education. Even in his fevered hours, so the girl had said, his
tongue had not betrayed him. Perhaps that sealed letter was a form
of confession, and thus relieved him on that score. And yet that
could not be: it was a confession only in the event of his death.
Living, he knew that he would never send that letter.

His conscience, however, was entirely another affair. He could
neither stifle nor deaden that. It was always jabbing him with
white-hot barbs, waking or sleeping. But it never said: "Tell
someone! Tell someone!" Was he something of a moral pervert, then?
Was it what he had lost--the familiar world--rather than what he
had done?

He stared dully at the footrail. For the present the desire to fly
was gone. No doubt that was due to his helplessness. When he was up
and about, the idea of flight would return. But how far could he
fly on a few hundred? True, he might find a job somewhere; but
every footstep from behind...!

"Who is she? Where does she come from?"

"You mean Miss Enschede?"

"Yes. That dress she has on--my mother might have worn it."

He was beginning to notice things, then? The doctor was pleased.
The boy was coming around.

"Miss Enschede was born on an island in the South Seas. She is
setting out for Hartford, Connecticut. The dress was her mother's,
and she was wearing it to save a little extra money."

The doctor had entered the room fully determined to tell the
patient the major part of Ruth's story, to inspire him with proper
respect and gratitude. Instead, he could not get beyond these minor
details--why she wore the dress, whence she had come, and whither
she was bound. The idea of this sudden reluctance was elusive; the
fact was evident but not the reason for it.

"How would you like a job on a copra plantation?" he asked,
irrelevantly to the thoughts crowding one another in his mind. "Out
of the beaten track, with a real man for an employer? How would
that strike you?"

Interest shot into Spurlock's eyes; it spread to his wan face. Out
of the beaten track! He must not appear too eager. "I'll need a job
when I quit this bed. I'm not particular what or where."

"That kind of talk makes you sound like a white man. Of course, I
can't promise you the job definitely. But I've an old friend on the
way here, and he knows the game down there. If he hasn't a job for
you, he'll know someone who has. Managers and accountants are
always shifting about, so he tells me. It's mighty lonesome down
there for a man bred to cities."

"Find me the job. I don't care how lonesome it is."

Out of the beaten track! thought Spurlock. A forgotten island
beyond the ship lanes, where that grim Hand would falter and move
blindly in its search for him! From what he had read, there
wouldn't be much to do; and in the idle hours he could write.

"Thanks," he said, holding out a thin white hand. "I'll be very
glad to take that kind of a job, if you can find it."

"Well, that's fine. Got you interested in something, then? Would
you like a peg?"

"No. I hated the stuff. There was a pleasant numbness in the
bottle; that's why I went to it."

"Thought so. But I had to know for sure. Down there, whisky raises
the very devil with white men. Don't build your hopes too high; but
I will do what I can. While there's life there's hope. Buck up."

"I'm afraid I don't understand."

"Understand what?"

"You or this girl. There are, then, in this sorry world, people who
can be disinterestedly kind!"

The doctor laughed, gave Spurlock's shoulder a pat, and left the
room. Outside the door he turned and stared at the panels. Why
hadn't he gone on with the girl's story? What instinct had stuffed
it back into his throat? Why the inexplicable impulse to hurry this
rather pathetic derelict on his way?



CHAPTER XV


Previous to his illness, Spurlock's mind had been tortured by an
appalling worry, so that now, in the process of convalescence, it
might be compared to a pool which had been violently stirred: there
were indications of subsidence, but there were still strange forms
swirling on the surface--whims and fancies which in normal times
would never have risen above sub-consciousness.

Little by little the pool cleared, the whims vanished: so that both
Ruth and the doctor, by the middle of the third week, began to
accept Spurlock's actions as normal, whereas there was still a mote
or two which declined to settle, still a kink in the gray matter
that refused to straighten out.

Spurlock began to watch for Ruth's coming in the morning; first,
with negligent interest, then with positive eagerness. His literary
instincts were reviving. Ruth was something to study for future
copy; she was almost unbelievable. She was not a reversion to type,
which intimates the primordial; she suggested rather the
incarnation of some goddess of the South Seas. He was not able to
recognize, as the doctor did, that she was only a natural woman.

His attitude toward her was purely intellectual, free of any
sentimentality, utterly selfish. Ruth was not a woman; she was a
phenomenon. So, adroitly and patiently, he pulled Ruth apart; that
is, he plucked forth a little secret here, another there, until he
had quite a substantial array. What he did not know was this: Ruth
surrendered these little secrets because the doctor had warned her
that the patient must be amused and interested.

From time to time, however, he was baffled. The real tragedy--which
he sensed and toward which he was always reaching--eluded all his
verbal skill. It was not a cambric curtain Ruth had drawn across
that part of her life: it was of iron. Ruth could tell the doctor;
she could bare many of her innermost thoughts to that kindly man;
but there was an inexplicable reserve before this young man whom
she still endued with the melancholy charm of Sydney Carton. It was
not due to shyness: it was the inherent instinct of the Woman, a
protective fear that she must retain some elements of mystery in
order to hold the interest of the male.

When she told him that the natives called her The Dawn Pearl, his
delight was unbounded. He addressed her by that title, and
something in the tone disturbed her. A sophisticated woman would
have translated the tone as a caress. And yet to Spurlock it was
only the title of a story he would some day write. He was caressing
an idea.

The point is, Spurlock was coming along: queerly, by his own
imagination. The true creative mind is always returning to battle;
defeats are only temporary set-backs. Spurlock knew that somewhere
along the way he would write a story worth while. Already he was
dramatizing Ruth, involving her, now in some pearl thieving
adventure, now in some impossible tale of a white goddess. But
somehow he could not bring any of these affairs to an orderly end.
Presently he became filled with astonishment over the singular fact
that Ruth was eluding him in fancy as well as in reality.

One morning he caught her hand suddenly and kissed it. Men had
tried that before, but never until now had they been quick enough.
The touch of his lips neither thrilled nor alarmed her, because the
eyes that looked into hers were clean. Spurlock knew exactly what
he was doing, however: speculative mischief, to see how she would
act.

"I haven't offended you?"--not contritely but curiously.

"No"--as if her thoughts were elsewhere.

Something in her lack of embarrassment irritated him. "Has no man
ever kissed you?"

"No." Which was literally the truth.

He accepted this confession conditionally: that no young man had
kissed her. There was nothing of the phenomenon in this. But his
astonishment would have been great indeed had he known that not
even her father had ever caressed her, either with lips or with
hands.

Ruth had lived in a world without caresses. The significance of the
kiss was still obscure to her, though she had frequently
encountered the word and act in the Old and New Testaments and
latterly in novels. Men had tried to kiss her--unshaven derelicts,
some of them terrible--but she had always managed to escape. What
had urged her to wrench loose and fly was the guarding instinct of
the good woman. Something namelessly abhorrent in the eyes of those
men...!

She knew what arms were for--to fold and embrace and to hold one
tightly; but why men wished to kiss women was still a profound
mystery. No matter how often she came across this phase in love
stories, there was never anything explanatory: as if all human
beings perfectly understood. It would not have been for her an
anomaly to read a love story in which there were no kisses.

This salute of his--actually the first she could remember--while it
did not disturb her, began to lead her thoughts into new channels
of speculation. The more her thoughts dwelt upon the subject, the
more convinced she was that she could not go to any one for help;
she would have to solve the riddle by her own efforts, by some
future experience.

"The Dawn Pearl," he said.

"The natives have foolish ways of saying things."

"On the contrary, if that is a specimen, they must be poets. Tell
me about your island. I have never seen a lagoon."

"But you can imagine it. Tell me what you think the island is
like."

He did not pause to consider how she had learned that he had
imagination; he comprehended only the direct challenge. To be free
of outward distraction, he shut his eyes and concentrated upon the
scraps she had given him; and shortly, with his eyes still closed,
he began to describe Ruth's island: the mountain at one end, with
the ever-recurring scarves of mist drifting across the lava-scarred
face; the jungle at the foot of it; the dazzling border of white
sand; the sprawling store of the trader and the rotting wharf,
sundrily patched with drift-wood; the native huts on the sandy
floor of the palm groves; the scattered sandalwood and ebony; the
screaming parakeets in the plantains; the fishing proas; the
mission with its white washed walls and barren frontage; the
lagoon, fringed with coco palms, now ruffled emerald, now placid
sapphire.

"I think the natives saw you coming out of the lagoon, one dawn.
For you say that you swim. Wonderful! The water, dripping from you,
must have looked like pearls. Do you know what? You're some sea
goddess and you're only fooling us."

He opened his eyes, to behold hers large with wonder.

"And you saw all that in your mind?"

"It wasn't difficult. You yourself supplied the details. All I had
to do was to piece them together."

"But I never told you how the natives fished."

"Perhaps I read of it somewhere."

"Still, you forgot something."

"What did I forget?"

"The breathless days and the faded, pitiless sky. Nothing to do;
nothing for the hands, the mind, the heart. To wait for hours and
hours for the night! The sea empty for days! You forgot the
monotony, the endless monotony, that bends you and breaks you and
crushes you--you forgot that!"

Her voice had steadily risen until it was charged with passionate
anger. It was his turn to express astonishment. Fire; she was full
of it. Pearls in the dawn light, flashing and burning!

"You don't like your island?"

"I hate it!... But, there!"--weariness edging in. "I am sorry. I
shouldn't talk like that. I'm a poor nurse."

"You are the most wonderful human being I ever saw!" And he meant
it.

She trembled; but she did not know why. "You mustn't talk any more;
the excitement isn't good for you."

Drama. To get behind that impenetrable curtain, to learn why she
hated her island. Never had he been so intrigued. Why, there was
drama in the very dress she wore! There was drama in the unusual
beauty of her, hidden away all these years on a forgotten isle!

"You've been lonely, too."

"You mustn't talk."

He ignored the command. "To be lonely! What is physical torture, if
someone who loves you is nigh? But to be alone ... as I am!... yes,
and as you are! Oh, you haven't told me, but I can see with half an
eye. With nobody who cares ... the both of us!"

He was real in this moment. She was given a glimpse of his soul.
She wanted to take him in her arms and hush him, but she sat
perfectly still. Then came the shock of the knowledge that soon he
would be going upon his way, that there would be no one to depend
upon her; and all the old loneliness came smothering down upon her
again. She could not analyse what was stirring in her: the thought
of losing the doll, the dog, and the cat. There was the world
besides, looming darker and larger.

"What would you like most in this world?" he asked. Once more he
was the searcher.

"Red apples and snow!" she sent back at him, her face suddenly
transfixed by some inner glory.

"Red apples and snow!" he repeated. He returned figuratively to his
bed--the bed he had made for himself and in which he must for ever
lie. Red apples and snow! How often had these two things entered
his thoughts since his wanderings began? Red apples and snow!--and
never again to behold them!

"I am going out for a little while," she said. She wanted to be
alone. "Otherwise you will not get your morning's sleep."

He did not reply. His curiosity, his literary instincts, had been
submerged by the recurring thought of the fool he had made of
himself. He heard the door close; and in a little while he fell
into a doze; and there came a dream filled with broken pictures,
each one of which the girl dominated. He saw her, dripping with
rosy pearls, rise out of the lagoon in the dawn light: he saw her
flashing to and fro among the coco palms in the moonshine: he saw
her breasting the hurricane, her body as full of grace and beauty
as the Winged Victory of the Louvre. The queer phase of the dream
was this, she was at no time a woman; she was symbolical of
something, and he followed to learn what this something was. There
was a lapse of time, an interval of blackness; then he found his
hand in hers and she was leading him at a run up the side of the
mountain.

His heart beat wildly and he was afraid lest the strain be too
much; but the girl shook her head and smiled and pointed to the top
of the mountain. All at once they came to the top, the faded blue
sky overhead, and whichever way he looked, the horizon, the great
rocking circle which hemmed them in. She pointed hither and yon,
smiled and shook her head. Then he understood. Nowhere could he see
that reaching, menacing Hand. So long as she stood beside him, he
was safe. That was what she was trying to make him understand.

He awoke, strangely content. As it happens sometimes, the idea
stepped down from the dream into the reality; and he saw it more
clearly now than he had seen it in the dream. It filled his
thoughts for the rest of the day, and became an obsession. How to
hold her, how to keep her at his side; this was the problem with
which he struggled.

When she came in after dinner that night, Ruth was no longer an
interesting phenomenon, something figuratively to tear apart and
investigate: she was talismanic. So long as she stood beside him,
the Hand would not prevail.



CHAPTER XVI


Ah cum began to worry. Each morning his inquiry was properly
answered: the patient was steadily improving, but none could say
when he would be strong enough to proceed upon his journey. The
tourist season would soon be at ebb, and it would be late in
September before the tide returned. So, then, fifty gold was
considerable; it would carry Ah Cum across four comparatively idle
months. And because of this hanging gold Ah Cum left many doors
open to doubt.

Perhaps the doctor, the manager and the girl were in collusion:
perhaps they had heard indirectly of the visit paid by Mr.
O'Higgins, the American detective, and were waiting against the
hour when they could assist the young man in a sudden dash for
liberty. Why not? Were not his own sentiments inclined in favour of
the patient? But fifty gold was fifty gold.

One morning, as he took his stand on the Hong-Kong packet dock to
ambush the possible tourist, he witnessed the arrival of a tubby
schooner, dirty gray and blotched as though she had run through
fire. Her two sticks were bare and brown, her snugged canvas drab,
her brasses dull, her anchor mottled with rust. There was only one
clean spot in the picture--the ship's wash (all white) that
fluttered on a line stretched between the two masts. The half-nude
brown bodies of the crew informed Ah Cum that the schooner had come
up from the South Seas. The boiling under her stern, however, told
him nothing. He was not a sailor. It would not have interested him
in the least to learn that the tub ran on two powers--wind and oil.

Sampans with fish and fruit and vegetables swarmed about, while
overhead gulls wheeled and swooped and circled. One of the sampans
was hailed, and a rope-ladder was lowered. Shortly a man descended
laboriously. He was dressed immaculately in a suit of heavy
Shantung silk. His face was half hidden under a freshly pipeclayed
_sola topee_--sun-helmet. He turned and shouted some orders to the
Kanaka crew, then nodded to the sampan's coolies, who bore upon the
sweeps and headed for the Sha-mien.

Ah Cum turned to his own affairs, blissfully ignorant that this tub
was, within forty-eight hours, to cost him fifty gold. What had
shifted his casual interest was the visible prospect of a party of
three who were coming down the packet gang-plank. The trio
exhibited that indecisive air with which Ah Cum was tolerably
familiar. They were looking for a guide. Forthwith he presented his
card.

The Reverend Henry Dolby had come to see China; for that purpose he
had, with his wife and daughter, traversed land and sea to the
extent of ten thousand miles. Actually, he had come all this
distance simply to fulfil a certain clause in his contract with
Fate, to be in Canton on this particular day.

Meantime, as the doctor was splitting his breakfast orange, he
heard a commotion in his office, two rooms removed: volleys of
pidgin English, one voice in protest, the other dominant. This was
followed by heavy footsteps, and in another moment the dining-room
door was flung open.

The doctor jumped to his feet. "Mac, you old son-of-a-gun!"

"Got a man's breakfast?" McClintock demanded to know.

"Tom! Hey, Tom!" The Chinese cook thrust his head into the dining
room. "Those chops, fried potatoes, and buttered toast."

"Aw light!"

The two old friends held each other off at arms' length for
inspection; this proving satisfactory, they began to prod and
pummel one another affectionately. No hair to fall awry, no powder
to displace, no ruffles to crush; men are lucky. Women never throw
themselves into each other's arms; they calculate the distance and
the damage perfectly.

They sat down, McClintock reaching for a lump of sugar which he
began munching.

"Come up by the packet?"

"No; came up with _The Tigress_."

"_The Tigress!_" The doctor laughed. "You'd have hit it off better
if you'd called her _The Sow_. I'll bet you haven't given her a
bucket of paint in three years. Oh, I know. You give her a daub
here and there where the rust shows. A man as rich as you are ought
to have a thousand-ton yacht."

"Good enough for me. She's plenty clean below."

"I'll bet she still smells to heaven with sour coconut. Bring your
liveralong?"

"I sometimes wonder if I have any--if it isn't the hole where it
was that aches."

"You look pretty fit."

"Oh, a shave and a clean suit will do a lot. It's a pity you
wouldn't give me the prescription instead of the medicine, so I
could have it filled nearer home."

"I'd never set eyes on you again. You'd be coming up to Hong-Kong,
but you'd be cutting out Canton. I'll bet you've been in Hong-Kong
these two weeks already, and never a line to me."

"Didn't want any lectures spoiling a good time."

"How long will you be here?"

"To-morrow night. It's sixteen days down, with _The Tigress_. The
South China will be dropping to a dead calm, and I want to use
canvas as much as I can. You simply can't get good oil down there,
so I must husband the few drams I carry."

"What a life!"

"No worse than yours."

"But I'm a poor man. I'm always shy the price of the ticket home.
You're rich. You could return to civilization and have a good time
all the rest of your days."

"Two weeks in Hong-Kong," replied McClintock, "is more than
enough."

"But, Lord, man!--don't you ever get lonesome?"

"Don't you?"

"I'm too busy."

"So am I. I am carrying back a hundred new books and forty new
records for the piano-player. Whenever I feel particularly
gregarious, I take the launch and run over to Copeley's and play
poker for a couple of days. Lonesomeness isn't my worry. I can't
keep a good man beyond three pay-days. They want some fun, and
there isn't any. No other white people within twenty miles. I've
combed Hong-Kong. They all balk because there aren't any
petticoats. I won't have a beachcomber on the island. The job is
easy. The big pay strikes them; but when they find there's no place
to spend it, good-bye!"

Tom the cook came in with the chops and the potatoes--the doctor's
dinner--and McClintock fell to with a gusto which suggested that
there was still some liver under his ribs. The doctor smoked his
pipe thoughtfully.

"Mac, did you ever run across a missioner by the name of Enschede?"

"Enschede?" McClintock stared at the ceiling. "Sounds as if I had
heard it, but I can't place it this minute. Certainly I never met
him. Why?"

"I was just wondering. You say you need a man. Just how particular
are you? Will he have to bring recommendations?"

"He will not. His face will be all I need. Have you got someone in
mind for me?"

"Finish your breakfast and I'll tell you the story." Ten minutes
later, the doctor, having marshalled all his facts chronologically,
began his tale. He made it brief. "Of course, I haven't the least
evidence that the boy has done anything wrong; it's what I'd call a
hunch; piecing this and that together."

"Are you friendly toward him?" asked McClintock, passing a fine
cigar across the table.

"Yes. The boy doesn't know it, but I dug into his trunk for
something to identify him and stumbled upon some manuscripts.
Pretty good stuff, some of it. The subject matter was generally
worthless, but the handling was well done. You're always
complaining that you can't keep anybody more than three months. If
my conjectures are right, this boy would stay there indefinitely."

"I don't know," said McClintock.

"But you said you weren't particular. Moreover, he's a Yale
University man, and he'd be good company."

"What's he know about copra and native talk?"

"Nothing, probably; but I'll wager he'll pick it all up fast
enough."

"A fugitive."

"But that's the point--I don't know. But supposing he is? Supposing
he made but one misstep? Your island would be a haven of security.
I know something about men."

"I agree to that. But it strikes me there's a nigger in the
woodpile somewhere, as you Yankees say. Why are you so anxious?"

"Oh, if you can't see your way...."

"I'll have a look-see before I make any decision. It's your
eagerness that bothers me. You seem to want this chap out of
Canton."

The doctor hesitated, puffing his tobacco hastily. "There's a young
woman."

"I remember now!" interrupted McClintock. "This Enschede--the
missioner. One of his converted Kanakas dropped in one day. He
called Enschede the Bellower. Seems Enschede's daughter ran away
and left him, and he's combing the islands in search of her. He's a
hundred miles sou'-east of me."

"Well, this young lady I was about to describe," said the doctor,
"is Enschede's daughter."

McClintock whistled. "Oho!" he said. "So she got away as far as
this, eh? But where does she come in?"

The doctor recounted that side of the tale. "And so I want the boy
out of the way," he concluded. "She in intensely impressionable and
romantic, and probably she is giving the chap qualities he doesn't
possess. All the talk in the world would not describe Ruth. You
have to see her to understand."

"And what are you going to do with her, supposing I'm fool enough
to take this boy with me?"

"Send her to my people, in case she cannot find her aunt."

"I see. Afraid there'll be a love-affair. Well, I'll have a look-see
at this young De Maupassant. I know faces. Down in my part of the
world it's all a man has to go by. But if he's in bed, how the devil
is he going with me, supposing I decide to hire him? The mudhook
comes up to-morrow night."

"I can get him aboard all right. A sea voyage under sail will be
the making of him."

"Let's toddle over to the Victoria at once. I'll do anything in
reason for you, old top; but no pig in a poke. Enschede's daughter.
Things happen out this way. That's a queer yarn."

"It's a queer girl."

"With a face as square and flat as a bottle of gin. I know the
Dutch." He sent the doctor a sly glance.

"She's the most beautiful creature you ever set eyes on," said the
doctor, warmly. "That's the whole difficulty. I want her to get
forward, to set her among people who'll understand what to do with
her."

"Ship her back to her father"--sagely.

"No. I tell you, that girl would jump into the sea, rather.
Something happened down there, and probably I'll never know what.
Every time you mention the father, she turns into marble. No; she'd
never go back. Mac, she's the honestest human being I ever saw or
heard of; and at the same time she is velvet over steel. And yet,
she would be easy prey in her present state of mind to any
plausible, attractive scoundrel. That's why I'm so anxious to get
her to a haven."

"Come along, then. You've got me interested and curious. If you
were ten years younger, you'd have me wondering."

The doctor did not reply to this rather ambiguous statement, but
pushed back his chair and signed to McClintock to follow. They
found Ruth reading to Spurlock, whose shoulders and head were
propped by pillows.

McClintock did not exaggerate his ability to read faces. It was his
particular hobby, and the leisure he had to apply to it had given
him a remarkable appraising eye. Within ten minutes he had read
much more than had greeted his eye. A wave of pity went over
him--pity for the patient, the girl, and his friend. The poor old
imbecile! Why, this child was a firebrand, a wrecker, if ever he
had seen one; and the worst kind because she was unconscious of her
gifts.

As for the patient, his decision was immediate. Here was no crooked
soul; a little weak perhaps, impulsive beyond common, but
fundamentally honest. Given time and the right environment, and he
would outgrow these defects. Confidence in himself would strengthen
him. If the boy had done anything wrong back there in the States,
his would be the brand of conscience to pay him out in full. With a
little more meat on him, he would be handsome.

"My friend here," said McClintock, "tells me you are looking for a
job."

"Yes."

"Well, I've a job open; but I don't want you to get the wrong idea
of it. In the first place, it will be damnably dull. You won't
often see white folks. There will be long stretches of idleness,
heat, and enervation; and always the odour of drying coconut. A
good deal of the food will be in tins. You'll live to hate chicken;
and the man in you will rise up and demand strong drink. But nobody
drinks on my island unless I offer it, which is seldom. If there is
any drinking, I'll do it."

Spurlock smiled at the doctor.

"He'll not trouble you on the liquor side, Mac."

[Illustration: _Distinctive Pictures Corporation. The Ragged Edge._
A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY.]

"So much the better. You will have a bungalow to yourself,"
continued McClintock, "and your morning meal will be your own
affair. But luncheon and dinners you will sit at my table. I'm a
stickler about clothes and clean chins. How you dress when you're
loafing will be no concern of mine; but fresh twill or Shantung,
when you dine with me, collar and tie. If you like books and music,
we'll get along."

"Then you are taking me on?" Spurlock's eyes grew soft like those
of a dog that, expecting the whip, saw only the kindly hand.

"I am going to give you a try."

"When will you want me?"--with pitiful eagerness. "How shall I get
to you?"

"My yacht is in the river. The doctor here says he can get you
aboard to-morrow night. But understand me thoroughly: I am offering
you this job because my friend wants to help you. I don't know
anything about you. I am gambling on his intuition." McClintock
preferred to put it thus.

"To-morrow night!" said Spurlock, in a wondering whisper. Out of
the beaten track, far from the trails of men! He relaxed.

The doctor reached over and laid his hand upon Spurlock's heart.
"Thumping; but that's only excitement. You'll do."

Then he looked at Ruth. Her face expressed nothing. That was one of
the mysterious qualities of this child of the lagoon: she had
always at instant service that Oriental mask of impenetrable calm
that no Occidental trick could dislodge. He could not tell by the
look of her whether she was glad or sorry that presently she would
be free.

"I have good news for you. If you do not find your aunt, my people
will take you under wing until you can stand on your own."

"That is very kind of you," she acknowledged. The lips of the mask
twisted upward into a smile.

The doctor missed the expression of terror and dismay that flitted
across Spurlock's face.

Once they were below, McClintock turned upon the doctor. "I can
readily see," he said, "why you'll always be as poor as a church
mouse."

"What?" said the doctor, whose thoughts were in something of a
turmoil. "What's that?"

"The old human cry of something for nothing; but with you it is in
reverse. You are always doing something for nothing, and that is
why I love you. If I offered you half of my possessions, you'd
doubtless wallop me on the jaw. To be with you is the best moral
tonic I know. You tonic my liver and you tonic my soul. It is good
sometimes to walk with a man who can look God squarely in the face,
as you can."

"But wasn't I right? That pair?"

"I'll take the boy; he'll be a novelty. Amiable and good-looking.
That's the kind, my friend, that always fall soft. No matter what
they do, always someone to bolster them up, to lend them money, and
to coddle them."

"But, man, this chap hasn't fallen soft."

"Ay, but he will. And here's the proof. You and the girl have made
it soft for him, and I'm going to make it soft for him. But what I
do is based upon the fact that he is one of those individuals who
are conscience-driven. Conscience drove him to this side of the
world, to this bed. It drives him to my island, where I can study
him to my heart's content. He believes that he is leaving this
conscience behind; and I want to watch his disillusion on this
particular point. Oh, don't worry. I shall always be kind to him; I
sha'n't bait him. Only, he'll be an interesting specimen for me to
observe. But ship that girl east as soon as you can."

"Why?"

McClintock put a hand on the doctor's shoulder. "Because she's a
fire-opal, and to the world at large they bring bad luck."

"Rot! Mac, what do you suppose the natives used to call her? The
Dawn Pearl!"

McClintock wagged his Scotch head negatively. He knew what he knew.

       *       *       *       *       *

Spurlock possessed that extraordinary condition of the mind which
is called New England conscience. Buried under various ancestral
sixteenths, smothered under modern thought, liberty of action and
bewildering variety of flesh-pots, it was still alive to the extent
that it needed only his present state to resuscitate it in all its
peculiar force. The Protestant Flagellant, who whipped his soul
rather than his body, who made self-denial the rack and the boot,
who believed that on Sunday it was sacrilegious to smile,
blasphemous to laugh! Spurlock had gone back spiritually three
hundred years. In the matter of his conscience he was primitive;
and for an educated man to become primitive is to become something
of a child.

From midnight until morning he was now left alone. He had
sufficient strength to wait upon himself. During the previous night
he had been restless; and in the lonely dragging hours his thoughts
had raced in an endless circle--action without progress. He was
reaching wearily for some kind of buffer to his harrying
conscience. He thought rationally; that is to say, he thought
clearly, as a child thinks clearly. The primitive superstition of
his Puritan forbears was his; and before this the buckler of his
education disintegrated. The idea of Ruth as a talisman against
misfortune--which he now recognized as a sick man's idea--faded as
his appreciation of the absurd reasserted itself. But in its
stead--toward morning--there appeared another idea which appealed to
him as sublime, appealed to the primitive conscience, to his
artistic sense of the drama, to the poet and the novelist in him. He
was and always would be dramatizing his emotions; perpetually he
would be confounding his actual with his imaginary self.

To surrender himself to the law, to face trial and imprisonment,
was out of the question. Let the law put its hand on his
shoulder--if it could! But at present he was at liberty, and he
purposed to remain in that state. His conscience never told him to
go back and take his punishment; it tortured him only in regard to
the deed itself. He had tossed an honoured name into the mire; he
required no prison bars to accentuate this misery.

Something, then, to appease the wrath of God; something to blunt
this persistent agony. It was not necessary to appease the wrath of
human society; it was necessary only to appease that of God for the
broken Commandment. To divide the agony into two spheres so that
one would mitigate the other. In fine, to marry Ruth (if she would
consent) as a punishment for what he had done! To whip his soul so
long as he lived, but to let his body go free! To provide for her,
to work and dream for her, to be tender and thoughtful and loyal,
to shelter and guard her, to become accountable to God for her
future.

It was the sing-song girl idea, magnified many diameters. In this
hour its colossal selfishness never occurred to him.

So, then, when McClintock offered the coveted haven, Spurlock
became afire to dramatize the idea.

"Ruth!"

She had gone to the door, aimlessly, without purpose. All the
sombre visions she had been pressing back, fighting out of her
thoughts, swarmed over the barrier and crushed her. She did not
want to go to the doctor's people; however kindly that might be,
they would be only curious strangers. She would never return to her
father; that resolution was final. What she actually wanted was the
present state of affairs to continue indefinitely.

That is what terrified her: the consciousness that nothing in her
life would be continuous, that she would no sooner form friendships
(like the present) than relentless fate would thrust her into a new
circle. All the initial confidence in herself was gone; her courage
was merely a shell to hide the lack. To have the present lengthen
into years! But in a few hours she would be upon her way, far
lonelier than she had ever been. As Spurlock called her name, she
paused and turned.

"Dawn Pearl!... come here!"

She moved to the side of the bed. "What is it?"

"Can't you see? Together, down there; you and I!... As my wife!
Both of us, never to be lonely again!... Will you marry me, Ruth?"

As many a wiser woman had done, Ruth mistook thrilling eagerness
for love. Love and companionship. A fire enveloped her, a fire
which was strangely healing, filling her heart with warmth,
blotting out the menace of the world. She forgot her vital hatred
of the South Seas; she forgot that McClintock's would not differ a
jot from the old island she had for ever left behind her; she
forgot all the doctor's lessons and warnings.

She would marry him. Because of the thought of love and
companionship? No. Because here was the haven for which she had
been blindly groping: the positive abolition of all her father's
rights in her--the right to drag her back. The annihilation of the
Terror which fascinated her and troubled her dreams o' nights.

"You want me, then?" she said.

"Oh, yes!--for always!"

He took her hands and pressed them upon his thrumming heart; and in
this attitude they remained for some time.

Something forbade him to draw her toward him and seal the compact
with a kiss. Down under the incalculable selfishness of the
penitent child there was the man's uneasy recollection of Judas. He
could not kiss Ruth.



CHAPTER XVII


After the Ten Commandments have been spoken, conscience becomes
less something inherent than something acquired. It is now a point
of view, differing widely, as the ignorant man differs from the
educated. You and I will agree upon the Ten Commandments; but
perhaps we will refuse to accept the other's interpretation of the
ramifications. I step on my neighbour's feet, return and apologize
because my acquired conscience orders me to do so; whereas you
might pass on without caring if your neighbour hopped about on one
foot. The inherent conscience keeps most of us away from jail, from
court, from the gallows; the acquired conscience helps us to
preserve the little amenities of daily life. So then, the acquired
is the livelier phase, being driven into action daily; whereas the
inherent may lie dormant for months, even years.

To Spurlock, in this hour, his conscience stood over against the
Ten Commandments, one of which he had broken. He became primitive,
literal in his conception; the ramifications were, for the nonce,
fairly relegated to limbo. He could not kiss Ruth because the
acquired conscience--struggling on its way to limbo--made the idea
repellant. Analysis would come later, when the primitive
conscience, satisfied, would cease to dominate his thought and
action.

Since morning he had become fanatical; the atoms of common sense no
longer functioned in the accustomed groove. And yet he knew clearly
and definitely what he purposed to do, what the future would be.
This species of madness cannot properly be attributed to his
illness, though its accent might be. For a time he would be the
grim Protestant Flagellant, pursuing the idea of self-castigation.
That he was immolating Ruth on the altar of his conscience never
broke in upon his thought for consideration. The fanatic has no
such word in his vocabulary.

Ruth had not expected to be kissed; so the omission passed unnoted.
For her it was sufficient to know that somebody wanted her, that
never again would she be alone, that always this boy with the
dreams would be depending upon her.

A strange betrothal!--the primal idea of which was escape! The
girl, intent upon abrogating for ever all legal rights of the
father in the daughter, of rendering innocuous the thing she had
now named the Terror: the boy, seeking self-crucifixion in
expiation of his transgression, changing a peccadillo into
damnation!

It was easy for Ruth to surrender to the idea, for she believed she
was loved; and in gratitude it was already her determination to
give this boy her heart's blood, drop by drop, if he wanted it. To
her, marriage would be a buckler against the two evils which
pursued her.

There was nothing on the Tablets of Moses that forebade Spurlock
marrying Ruth; there were no previous contracts. And yet, Spurlock
was afraid of the doctor; so was Ruth. They agreed that they must
marry at once, this morning, before the doctor could suspect what
was toward. The doctor would naturally offer a hundred objections;
he might seriously interfere; so he must be forestalled.

What marriage really meant (aside from the idea of escape), Ruth
had not the least conception, no more than a child. If she had any
idea at all, it was something she dimly recalled from her books:
something celestially beautiful, with a happy ending. But the
clearly definite thing was the ultimate escape. Wherein she
differed but little from her young sisters.

That is what marriage is to most young women: the ultimate escape
from the family, from the unwritten laws that govern children.
Whether they are loved or unloved has no bearing upon this desire
to test their wings, to try this new adventure, to take this leap
into the dark.

Spurlock possessed a vigorous intellect, critical, disquisitional,
creative; and yet he saw nothing remarkable in the girl's readiness
to marry him! An obsession is a blind spot.

"We must marry at once! The doctor may put me on the boat and force
you to remain behind, otherwise."

"And you want me to find a minister?" she asked, with ready
comprehension.

"That's it!"--eagerly. "Bring him back with you. Some of the hotel
guests can act as witnesses. Make haste!"

Ruth hurried off to her own room. Before she put on her sun-helmet,
she paused before the mirror. Her wedding gown! She wondered if the
spirit of the unknown mother looked down upon her.

"All I want is to be happy!" she said aloud, as if she were asking
for something of such ordinary value that God would readily accord
it to her because there was so little demand for the commodity.

Thrilling, she began to dance, swirled, glided, and dipped.
Whenever ecstasy--any kind of ecstasy--filled her heart to
bursting, these physical expressions eased the pressure.

Fate has two methods of procedure--the sudden and the
long-drawn-out. In some instances she tantalizes the victim for
years and mocks him in the end. In others, she acts with the speed
and surety of the loosed arrow. In the present instance she did not
want any interference; she did not want the doctor's wisdom to edge
in between these two young fools and spoil the drama. So she brought
upon the stage the Reverend Henry Dolby, a preacher of means,
worldly-wise and kindly, cheery and rotund, who, with his wife and
daughter, had arrived at the Victoria that morning. Ruth met him in
the hall as he was following his family into the dining room. She
recognized the cloth at once, waylaid him, and with that directness
of speech particularly hers she explained what she wanted.

"To be sure I will, my child. I will be up with my wife and
daughter after lunch."

"We'll be waiting for you. You are very kind." Ruth turned back
toward the stairs.

Later, when the Reverend Henry Dolby entered the Spurlock room, his
wife and daughter trailing amusedly behind him, and beheld the
strained eagerness on the two young faces, he smiled inwardly and
indulgently. Here were the passionate lovers! What their past had
been he neither cared nor craved to know. Their future would be
glorious; he saw it in their eyes; he saw it in the beauty of their
young heads. Of course, at home there would have been questions.
Were the parents agreeable? Were they of age? Had the license been
procured? But here, in a far country, only the velvet manacles of
wedlock were necessary.

So, forthwith, without any preliminaries beyond introductions, he
began the ceremony; and shortly Ruth Enschede became Ruth Spurlock,
for better or for worse. Spurlock gave his full name and
tremblingly inscribed it upon the certificate of marriage.

The customary gold band was missing; but a soft gold Chinese ring
Spurlock had picked up in Singapore--the characters representing
good luck and prosperity--was slipped over Ruth's third finger.

"There is no fee," said Dolby. "I am very happy to be of service to
you. And I wish you all the happiness in the world."

Mrs. Dolby was portly and handsome. There were lines in her face
that age had not put there. Guiding this man of hers over the
troubled sea of life had engraved these lines. He was the true
optimist; and that he should proceed, serenely unconscious of reefs
and storms, she accepted the double buffets.

This double buffetting had sharpened her shrewdness and insight.
Where her husband saw only two youngsters in the mating mood, she
felt that tragedy in some phase lurked in this room--if only in the
loneliness of these two, without kith or kin apparently, thousands
of miles from home. Not once during the ceremony did the two look
at each other, but riveted their gaze upon the lips of the man who
was forging the bands: gazed intensively, as if they feared the
world might vanish before the last word of the ceremony was spoken.

Spurlock relaxed, suddenly, and sank deeply into his pillows. Ruth
felt his hand grow cold as it slipped from hers. She bent down.

"You are all right?"--anxiously.

"Yes ... but dreadfully tired."

Mrs. Dolby smiled. It was the moment for smiles. She approached
Ruth with open arms; and something in the way the child came into
that kindly embrace hurt the older woman to the point of tears.

These passers-by who touch us but lightly and are gone, leaving the
eternal imprint! So long as she lived, Ruth would always remember
that embrace. It was warm, shielding, comforting, and what was
more, full of understanding. It was in fact the first embrace of
motherhood she had ever known. Even after this woman had gone, it
seemed to Ruth that the room was kindlier than it had ever been.

Inexplicably there flashed into vision the Chinese wedding
procession in the narrow, twisted streets of the city, that first
day: the gorgeous palanquin, the tom-toms, the weird music, the
ribald, jeering mob that trailed along behind. It was surely odd
that her thought should pick up that picture and recast it so
vividly.

At half after five that afternoon the doctor and his friend
McClintock entered the office of the Victoria.

"It's a great world," was the manager's greeting.

"So it is," the doctor agreed. "But what, may I ask, arouses the
thought?"

The doctor was in high good humour. Within forty-eight hours the
girl would be on her way east and the boy see-sawing the South
China Sea, for ever moving at absolute angles.

"Then you haven't heard?"

"Of what?"

"Well, well!" cried the manager, delighted at the idea of
surprising the doctor. "Miss Enschede and Mr. Spurlock--for that's
his real name--were married at high noon."

Emptiness; that was the doctor's initial sensation: his vitals had
been whisked out of him and the earth from under his feet. All his
interest in Ruth, all his care and solicitude, could now be
translated into a single word--love. Wanted her out of the way
because he had been afraid of her, afraid of himself! He, at
fifty-four! Then into this void poured a flaming anger, a blind and
unreasoning anger. He took the first step toward the stairs, and
met the restraining hand of McClintock.

"Steady, old top! What are you going to do?"

"The damned scoundrel!"

"I told you that child was opal."

"She? My God, the pity of it! She knows nothing of life. She no
more realizes what she has done than a child of eight. Marriage!
... without the least conception of the physical and moral
responsibilities! It's a crime, Mac!"

"But what can you do?" McClintock turned to the manager. "'It was
all perfectly legal?

"My word for it. The Reverend Henry Dolby performed the cermony,
and his wife and daughter were witnesses."

"When you heard what was going on, why didn't you send for me?"

"I didn't know it was going on. I heard only after it was all
over."

"If he could stand on two feet, I'd break every bone in his
worthless body!"

McClintock said soothingly: "But that wouldn't nullify the
marriage, old boy. I know. Thing's upset you a bit. Go easy."

"But, Mac . . . !"

"I understand," interrupted McClintock. Then, in a whisper: "But
there's no reason why the whole hotel should."

The doctor relaxed. "I've got to see him; but I'll be reasonable.
I've got to know why. And what will they do, and where will they
go?"

"With me--the both of them. So far as I'm concerned, nothing could
please me more. A married man!--the kind I've never been able to
lure down there! But keep your temper in check. Don't lay it all to
the boy. The girl is in it as deeply as he is. I'll wait for you
down here."

When the doctor entered the bedroom and looked into the faces of
the culprits, he laughed brokenly. Two children, who had been
caught in the jam-closet: ingratiating smiles, back of which lay
doubt and fear.

Ruth came to him directly. "You are angry?"

"Very. You don't realize what you have done."

"My courage gave out. The thought of going back!--the thought of
the unknown out there!--" with a tragic gesture toward the east. "I
couldn't go on!"

"You'll need something more than courage now. But no more of that.
What is done cannot be undone. I want to talk to Mr. Spurlock. Will
you leave us for a few minutes?"

"You are not going to be harsh?"

"I wish to talk about the future."

"Very well."

She departed reluctantly. The doctor walked over to the bed, folded
his arms across his chest and stared down into the unabashed eyes
of his patient.

"Do you realize that you are several kinds of a damned scoundrel?"
he began. This did not affect Spurlock. "Your name is Spurlock?"

"It is."

"Why did you use the name of Taber?"

"To keep my real name out of the mess I expected to make of myself
over here."

"That's frank enough," the doctor admitted astonishedly. So far the
boy's mind was clear. "But to drag this innocent child into the
muck! With her head full of book nonsense--love stories and fairy
stories! Have you any idea of the tragedy she is bound to stumble
upon some day? I don't care about you. The world is known to you. I
can see that you were somebody, in another day. But this child! ...
It's a damnable business!"

"I shall defend her and protect her with every drop of blood in my
body!" replied the Flagellant.

The intensity of the eyes and the defiant tone bewildered the
doctor, who found his well-constructed jeremiad without a platform.
So he was forced to shift and proceed at another angle, forgetting
his promise to McClintock to be temperate.

"When I went through your trunk that first night, I discovered an
envelope filled with manuscripts. Later, at the bottom of that
envelope I found a letter."

"To be opened in case of my death," added Spurlock. From under his
pillow he dragged forth the key to the trunk. "Here, take this and
get the letter and open and read it. Would you tell her ... now?"
his eyes flaming with mockery.



CHAPTER XVIII


The doctor reached for the key and studied it sombrely. The act was
mechanical, a bit of sparring for time: his anger was searching
about for a new vent. He was a just man, and he did not care to
start any thunder which was not based upon fairness. He had no wish
to go foraging in Spurlock's trunk. He had already shown the
covering envelope and its instructions to Ruth, and she had ignored
or misunderstood the warning. The boy was right. Ruth could not be
told now. There would be ultimate misery, but it would be needless
cruelty to give her a push toward it. But all these hours, trying
to teach the child wariness toward life, and the moment his back
was turned, this!

He was, perhaps, still dazed by the inner revelation--his own
interest in Ruth. The haste to send her upon her way now had but
one interpretation--the recognition of his own immediate danger,
the fear that if this tender association continued, he would end in
offering her a calamity quite as impossible as that which had
happened--the love of a man who was in all probability older than
her father! The hurt was no less intensive because it was so
ridiculous.

He would talk to Spurlock, but from the bench; as a judge, not as a
chagrined lover. He dropped the key on the counterpane.

"If I could only make you realize what you have done," he said,
lamely.

"I know exactly what I have done," replied Spurlock. "She is my
lawful wife."

"I should have opened that letter in the beginning," said the
doctor. "But I happen to be an honest man myself. Had you died, I
should have fully obeyed the instructions on that envelope. You
will make her suffer."

"For every hurt she has, I shall have two. I did not lay any traps
for her. I asked her to marry me, and she consented."

"Ah, yes; that's all very well. But when she learns that you are a
fugitive from justice...."

"What proof have you that I am?"--was the return bolt.

"A knowledge of the ways of men. I don't know what you have done; I
don't want to know now. But God will punish you for what you have
done this day."

"As for that, I don't say. But I shall take care of Ruth, work for
her and fight for her." A prophecy which was to be fulfilled in a
singular way. "Given a chance, I can make bread and butter. I'm no
mollycoddle. I have only one question to ask you."

"And what might that be?"

"Will McClintock take us both?"

"You took that chance. There has never been a white woman at
McClintock's."

He paused, and not without malice. He was human. The pause
lengthened, and he had the satisfaction of seeing despair melt the
set mockery of Spurlock's mouth.

"You begin to have doubts, eh? A handful of money between you, and
nothing else. There are only a few jobs over here for a man of your
type; and even these are more or less hopeless if you haven't
trained mechanical ability." Then he became merciful. "But
McClintock agrees to take you both--because he's as big a fool as I
am. But I give you this warning, and let it sink in. You will be
under the eye of the best friend I have; and if you do not treat
that child for what she is--an innocent angel--I promise to hunt
you across the wide world and kill you with bare hands."

Spurlock's glance shot up, flaming again. "And on my part, I shall
not lift a hand to defend myself."

"I wish I could have foreseen."

"That is to say, you wish you had let me die?"

"That was the thought."

This frankness rather subdued Spurlock. His shoulders relaxed and
his gaze wavered. "Perhaps that would have been best."

"But what, in God's name, possessed you? You have already wrecked
your own life and now you've wrecked hers. She doesn't love you;
she hasn't the least idea what it means beyond what she has read in
novels. The world isn't real yet; she hasn't comparisons by which
to govern her acts. I am a physician first, which gives the man in
me a secondary part. You have just passed through rather a severe
physical struggle; just as previously to your collapse you had gone
through some terrific mental strain. Your mind is still subtly
sick. The man in me would like to break every bone in your body,
but the physician understands that you don't actually realize what
you have done. But in a little while you will awake; and if there
is a spark of manhood in you, you will be horrified at this day's
work."

Spurlock closed his eyes. Expiation. He felt the first sting of the
whip. But there was no feeling of remorse; there was only the
sensation of exaltation.

"If you two loved each other," went on the doctor, "there would be
something to stand on--a reason why for this madness. I can fairly
understand Ruth; but you...!"

"Have you ever been so lonely that the soul of you cried in
anguish? Twenty-four hours a day to think in, alone?... Perhaps I
did not want to go mad from loneliness. I will tell you this much,
because you have been kind. It is true that I do not love Ruth; but
I swear to you, before the God of my fathers, that she shall never
know it!"

"I'll be getting along." The doctor ran his fingers through his
hair, despairingly. "A hell of a muddle! But all the talk in the
world can't undo it. I'll put you aboard _The Tigress_ to-morrow
after sundown. But remember my warning, and play the game!"

Spurlock closed his eyes again. The doctor turned quickly and made
for the door, which he opened and shut gently because he was
assured that Ruth was listening across the hall for any sign of
violence. He had nothing more to say either to her or to Spurlock.
All the king's horses and all the king's men could not undo what
was done; nor kill the strange exquisite flower that had grown up
in his own lonely heart.

Opals. He wondered if, after all, McClintock wasn't nearest the
truth, that Ruth was one of those unfortunate yet innocent women
who make havoc with the hearts of men.

Marriage!--and no woman by to tell the child what it was! The
shocks and disillusions she would have to meet unsuspectingly--and
bitterly. Unless there was some real metal in the young fool, some
hidden strength with which to breast the current, Ruth would become
a millstone around his neck and soon he would become to her an
object of pity and contempt.

There was once a philanthropist who dressed with shameful
shabbiness and carried pearls in his pocket. The picture might
easily apply to _The Tigress_: outwardly disreputable, but richly
and comfortably appointed below. The flush deck was without wells.
The wheel and the navigating instruments were sternward, under a
spread of heavy canvas, a protection against rain and sun. Amidship
there was also canvas, and like that over the wheel, drab and
dirty.

The dining saloon was done in mahogany and sandalwood, with eight
cabins, four to port and four to starboard. The bed-and table-linen
were of the finest texture. From the centre of the ceiling hung a
replica of the temple lamp in the Taj Mahal. The odour of coconut
prevailed, delicately but abidingly; for, save for the occasioned
pleasure junket, _The Tigress_ was a copra carrier, shell and fibre.

McClintock's was a plantation of ten thousand palms, yielding him
annually about half a million nuts. Natives brought him an equal
amount from the neighbouring islands. As the palm bears nuts
perennially, there were always coconut-laden proas making the
beach. Thus, McClintock carried to Copeley's press about half a
million pounds of copra. There was a very substantial profit in the
transaction, for he paid the natives in commodities--coloured
cotton cloths, pipes and tobacco, guns and ammunition, household
utensils, cutlery and glass gewgaws. It was perfectly legitimate.
Money was not necessary; indeed, it would have embarrassed all
concerned.. A native sold his supply of nuts in exchange for cloth,
tobacco and so forth. In the South Seas, money is the eliminated
middleman.

Where the islands are grouped, men discard the use of geographical
names and simply refer to "McClintock's" or "Copeley's," to the
logical dictator of this or that island.

       *       *       *       *       *

At sundown Spurlock was brought aboard and put into cabin 2, while
Ruth was assigned to cabin 4, adjoining. From the Sha-mien to the
yacht, Spurlock had uttered no word; though, even in the
semi-darkness, no gesture or word of Ruth's escaped him.

Now that she was his, to make or mar, she presented an
extraordinary fascination. She had suddenly become as the jewels of
the Madonna, as the idol's eye, infinitely beyond his reach,
sacred. He could not pull her soul apart now to satisfy that queer
absorbing, delving thing which was his literary curiosity; he had
put her outside that circle. His lawful wife; but nothing more;
beyond that she was only an idea, a trust.

An incredible road he had elected to travel; he granted that it was
incredible; and along this road somewhere would be Desire. There
were menacing possibilities; the thought of them set him a-tremble.
What would happen when confronted by the actual? He was young; she
was also young and physically beautiful--his lawful wife. He had
put himself before the threshold of damnation; for Ruth was now a
vestal in the temple. Such was the condition of his mind that the
danger exhilarated rather than depressed him. Here would be the
true test of his strength. Upon this island whither he was bound
there would be no diversions, breathing spells; the battle would be
constant.

All at once it came to him what a fool he was to worry over this
phase which was wholly suppositional. He did not love Ruth. They
would be partners only in loneliness. He would provide the
necessities of life and protect her. He would teach her all he knew
of life so that if the Hand should ever reach his shoulder, she
would be able to defend herself. He was always anticipating,
stepping into the future, torturing himself with non-existent
troubles. These cogitations were interrupted by the entrance of the
doctor.

"Good-bye, young man; and good luck."

"You are offering your hand to me?"

"Without reservations." The doctor gave Spurlock's hand a friendly
pressure. "Buck up! While there's life there's hope. Play fair with
her. You don't know what you have got; I do. Let her have her own
way in all things, for she will always be just."

Spurlock turned aside his head as he replied: "Words are sometimes
useless things. I might utter a million, and still I doubt if I
could make you understand."

"Probably not. The thing is done. The main idea now is of the
future. You will have lots of time on your hands. Get out your pad
and pencil. Go to it. Ruth will be a gold mine for a man of your
peculiar bent."

"You read those yarns?" Spurlock's head came about, and there was
eagerness in his eyes. "Rot, weren't they?"

"No. You have the gift of words, but you haven't started to create
yet. Go to it; and the best of luck!"

He went out. This farewell had been particularly distasteful to
him. There was still in his heart that fierce anger which demands
physical expression; but he had to consider Ruth in all phases. He
proceeded to the deck, where Ruth and McClintock were waiting for
him by the ladder. He handed Ruth a letter.

"What is this?" she wanted to know.

"A hundred dollars which was left from your husband's money."

"Would you be angry if I offered it to you?"

"Very. Don't worry about me."

"You are the kindest man I have ever known," said Ruth, unashamed
of her tears. "I have hurt you because I would not trust you. It is
useless to talk. I could never make you understand."

Almost the identical words of the boy. "Will you write," asked the
doctor, "and tell me how you are getting along?"

"Oh, yes!"

"The last advice I can give you is this: excite his imagination;
get him started with his writing. Remember, some day you and I are
going to have that book." He patted her hand. "Good-bye, Mac. Don't
forget to cut out all effervescent water. If you will have your
peg, take it with plain water. You'll be along next spring?"

"If the old tub will float. I'll watch over these infants, if
that's your worry. Good-bye."

The doctor went down the side to the waiting sampan, which at once
set out for the Sha-mien. Through a blur of tears Ruth followed the
rocking light until it vanished. One more passer-by; and always
would she remember his patience and tenderness and disinterestedness.
She was quite assured that she would never see him again.

"Yon's a dear man," said McClintock. His natal burr was always in
evidence when he was sentimentally affected. He knocked his pipe on
the teak rail. "Took a great fancy to you. Wants me to look out for
you a bit. I take it, down where we're going will be nothing new to
you. But I've stacks of books and a grand piano-player."

"Piano-player? Do you mean someone who plays for you?"

"No, no; one of those mechanical things you play with your feet.
Plays Beethoven, Rubenstein and all those chaps. I'm a bit daffy
about music."

"That sounds funny ... to play it with your feet!"

McClintock laughed. "It's a pump, like an organ."

"Oh, I see. What a wonderful world it is!" Music. She shuddered.

"Ay. Well, I'll be getting this tub under way."

Ruth walked to the companion. It was one of those old sliding trap
affairs, narrow and steep of descent. She went down, feeling rather
than seeing the way. The door of cabin 2 was open. Someone had
thoughtfully wrapped a bit of tissue paper round the electric bulb.

She did not enter the cabin at once, but paused on the threshold
and stared at the silent, recumbent figure in the bunk. In the
subdued light she could not tell whether he was asleep or awake.
Never again to be alone! To fit herself into this man's life as a
hand into a glove; to use all her skill to force him into the
position of depending upon her utterly; to be the spark to the
divine fire! He should have his book, even if it had to be written
with her heart's blood.

What she did not know, and what she was never to know, was that the
divine fire was hers.

"Ruth?" he called.

She entered and approached the bunk. "I thought you were asleep. Is
there anything you want?" She laid her hand on his forehead, and
found it without fever. She had worried in fear that the excitement
would be too much for him.

"Call me Hoddy. That is what my mother used to call me."

"Hoddy," she repeated. "I shall like to call you that. But now you
must be quiet; there's been too much excitement. Knock on the
partition if you want anything during the might. I awaken easily.
Good night!" She pressed his hand and went out.

For a long time he stared at the empty doorway. He heard the
panting of the donkey-engine, then the slithering of the anchor
chains. Presently he felt motion. He chuckled. The vast ironic
humour of it: he was starting on his honeymoon!



CHAPTER XIX


Meanwhile the doctor, upon returning to his office, found Ah Cum in
the waiting room. "Why, hello, Ah Cum! What's the trouble?"

Ah Cum took his hands from his sleeves. "I should like to know
where Mr. Spurlock has gone."

"Did he owe you money?"

"Oh, no!"

"Then why do you wish to know?"

Ah Cum pondered. "I have a client who is very much interested in
Mr. Spurlock. He was here shortly after the young man was taken
ill."

"Ah. What was this man?"

"A detective from the States."

"Why didn't he arrest Mr. Spurlock then?"

"I imagine that Mr. O'Higgins is rather a kindly man. He couldn't
have taken Mr. Spurlock back to Hong-Kong with him, so he
considered it would be needless to give an additional shock. He
asked me to watch Mr. Spurlock's movements and report progress. He
admitted that it would bore him to dally here in Canton, with the
pleasures of Hong-Kong so close."

The doctor caught the irony, and he warmed a little. "I'm afraid I
must decline to tell you. Do you know what Spurlock has done?"

"Mr. O'Higgins did not confide in me. But he told me this much,
that no matter how far Mr. Spurlock went, it would not be far
enough."

A detective. The doctor paced the room half a dozen times. How
easily an evil thought could penetrate a normally decent mind! All
he had to do was to disclose Spurlock's destination, and in a few
months Ruth would be free. For it was but logical that she would
seek a divorce on the ground that she had unknowingly married a
fugitive from justice. McClintock would be on hand to tell her how
and where to obtain this freedom. He stopped abruptly before the
apparently incurious Chinaman.

"Your detective has been remiss in his duty; let him suffer for
it."

"Personally, I am neutral," said Ah Cum. "I wish merely to come out
of this bargain honourably. It would make the young wife unhappy."

"Very."

"There was a yacht in the river?"

"I have nothing to say."

"By the name of _The Tigress_?"

The doctor smiled, but shook his head. He sent a speculative glance
at the immobile yellow face. Was Ah Cum offering him an opportunity
to warn Spurlock? But should he warn the boy? Why not let him
imagine himself secure? The thunderbolt would be launched soon
enough.

"I haven't a word to say, Ah Cum, not a word."

"Then I wish you good night."

Ah Cum went directly to the telegraph office, and his message was
devoted particularly to a description of _The Tigress_. Spurlock
had been taken aboard that yacht with the Kanaka crew, because _The
Tigress_ was the only ship marked for departure that night. Ah Cum
was not a sailor, but he knew his water-front. One of his chair
coolies had witnessed the transportation of Spurlock by stretcher
to the sampan in the canal. There were three other ships at anchor;
but as two would be making Shanghai and one rounding to Singapore
two days hence, it was logically certain that no fugitive would
seek haven in one of these.

But whither _The Tigress_ was bound or who the owner was lay beyond
the reach of Ah Cum's deductions. He did not particularly care. It
was enough that Spurlock had been taken aboard _The Tigress_.

He wisely refrained from questioning the manager of the Victoria.
He feared to antagonize that distinguished person. The Victoria was
Ah Cum's bread and butter.

The telegram dispatched, his obligation cancelled, Ah Cum proceeded
homeward, chuckling occasionally. The Yale spirit!

James Boyle O'Higgins was, as the saying goes, somewhat out of
luck. Ah Cum's wire reached the Hong-Kong Hotel promptly enough;
but O'Higgins was on board a United States cruiser, witnessing a
bout between a British sailor and a sergeant in the U.S. Marines.
It was a capital diversion; and as usual the Leatherneck bested the
Britisher, in seven rounds. O'Higgins returned to town and made a
night of it, nothing very wild, nothing very desperate. A modest
drinking bout which had its windup in a fan-tan house over in
Kowloon, where O'Higgins tussled with varying fortune until five in
the morning.

When he was given the telegram he flew to the Praya, engaged the
fast motor-boat he had previously bespoken against the need, and
started for the Macao Passage, with the vague hope of speaking _The
Tigress_. He hung round those broad waters from noon until three
and realized that he had embarked upon a wild-goose chase. Still,
his conscience was partly satisfied. He made Hong-Kong at dusk:
wet, hungry, and a bit groggy for the want of sleep; but he was in
no wise discouraged. The girl was in the game now, and that
narrowed the circle.

The following morning found him in the doctor's waiting room, a
black cigar turning unlighted in his teeth. When the doctor came
in--he had just finished his breakfast--O'Higgins rose and
presented his card. Upon reading the name, the doctor's eyebrows
went up.

"I rather fancy, as you Britishers say, that you know the nature of
my visit?"

"I'm an American."

"Fine!" said O'Higgins, jovially. "We won't have any trouble
understanding each other; same language. There's nothing on the
card to indicate it, but I'm a detective."

O'Higgins threw out his chest, gave it a pat, and smiled. This
smile warned the doctor not to underestimate the man. O'Higgins was
all that the doctor had imagined a detective to be: a bulky
policeman in civilian clothes. The blue jowl, the fat-lidded
eyes--now merry, now alert, now tungsten hard--the bullet head, the
pudgy fingers and the square-toed shoes were all in conformation
with the doctor's olden mental picture.

"Yes; I know I look it," said O'Higgins, amiably.

The doctor laughed. But he sobered instantly as he recollected that
O'Higgins had found Spurlock once. Journeying blindly half way
across the world, this man had found his quarry.

"I never wear false whiskers," went on O'Higgins. "The only
disguise I ever put on is a dress-suit, and I look as natural as a
pig at a Mahomedan dinner." O'Higgins was disarming the doctor.
"Won't you sit down?"

"I beg your pardon! Come into the consultation office"; and the
doctor led the way. "What is it you want of me?"

"All you know about this young fellow Spurlock."

"What has he done?"

"He has just naturally peeved his Uncle Sam. Now, you know where he
is bound."

"Did Ah Cum advise you?"

"He did pretty well for a Chinaman. But that's his American
education. Now, it won't do a bit of good to warn Spurlock. He
carries with him something that will mark him anywhere--the girl.
Say, that girl fooled me at first glance. You see, we guys bump up
against so much of the seamy side that we look upon everybody as
guilty until proved innocent, which is hind-side-to. The second
look told me I was wrong."

"I'm going to put one question," interrupted the doctor. "Was there
any other woman back there in the States?"

"Nary a female. Oh, they are married fast. What are you going to
tell me?"

"Nothing." But the doctor softened the refusal by smiling.

"For the sake of the girl. Well, I don't blame you on that ground.
If the boy was legging it alone...."

"I'm a doctor. I took him out of the hands of death. Unless he has
killed someone. I sha'n't utter a word."

"Killed someone?" O'Higgins laughed. "He wouldn't hurt a rabbit."

"You won't tell me what he has done?"

"If you'll tell me where he's heading."

"You can give me a little of his history, can't you? Something
about his people?"

"Oh, his folks were all right. His father and mother are gone now.
Rich folks, once. The boy had all kinds of opportunity; but it's
the old story of father making it too easy. It's always hard work
for a rich man's son to stand alone. Then you won't tell me where
he's going?"

"I will tell you six months from now."

"Prolonging the misery. Unless he deserts the girl, he won't be so
hard to find as formerly. You see, it's like this. The boss says to
me: 'Higg, here's a guy we want back. He's down in Patagonia
somewhere.' So I go to Patagonia. I know South America and Canada
like the lines in my hand. This is my first venture over here. The
point is, I know all the tricks in finding a man. Sure, I lose one
occasionally--if he stays in New York. But if he starts a long jog,
his name is Dennis. You may not know it, but it's easier to find a
guy that's gone far than it is when he lays dogo in little old New
York."

"You had Spurlock once."

O'Higgins grinned. "Women are always balling up and muddling clean
cases. If this girl hadn't busted into the game, Spurlock would
still be at the hotel."

The doctor was forced to admit the truth of this. Ruth out of the
picture, he wouldn't have concerned himself so eagerly in regard to
Spurlock's departure.

"I'm sorry, Mr. O'Higgins, but I decline to give you the least
information."

The detective ruefully inspected the scarlet band on his perfecto.
"And I'll bet a doughnut that boy in his soul is crazy to have it
over with. Well-born, well-educated; those are the lads that pay in
full."

"You're a philosopher, too. I'll tell you something. One of the
reasons why I decline to talk is this: that boy's punishment will
be enough."

"That's not my game. They order me to get my man, and I get him.
There ends my duty. What they do with him afterward is off my
ticket, no concern of James Boyle; they can lock him up or let him
go. Say, how about this Ah Cum: is he honest?"

"As the day is long."

"Didn't know but what I'd been out-bid. I offered him a hundred to
watch Spurlock. Fifty in advance. This morning I met him at the
dock, and he wouldn't take the other fifty. A queer nut. Imagine
any one on this side refusing fifty bucks! Well, I'll be toddling
along. Don't feel fussed upon my account. I get your side all
right. H'm!"

Over the desk, on the wall, was a map of the South Pacific
archipelagoes, embossed by a number of little circles drawn in red
ink. O'Higgins eyed it thoughtfully.

"That's your hunting ground," said the doctor.

"It's a whale of a place. Ten thousand islands, and each one good
for a night's rest. Why, that boy could hide for thirty
years--without the girl. She's my meal-ticket. What are those little
red circles?" O'Higgins asked, rising and inspecting the map. A film
of dust lay upon it; the ink marks were ancient. For a moment
O'Higgins had hoped that the ink applications would be recent.
"Been to those places?"

"No. Years ago I marked out an intinerary for myself; but the trip
never materialized. Too busy."

"That's the way it goes. Well, I'll take myself off. But if I were
you, I shouldn't warn Spurlock. Let him have his honeymoon. So
long."

For a long time after O'Higgins had gone the doctor rocked in his
swivel chair, his glance directed at the map. In all his life he
had never realized a dream; but the thought had never before hurt
him. The Dawn Pearl. It did not seem quite fair. He had plugged
along, if not happy, at least with sound philosophy. And then this
girl had to sweep into and out of his life! He recalled
McClintock's comment about Spurlock being the kind that fell soft.
Even this man-hunting machine was willing to grant the boy his
honeymoon.

Meantime, O'Higgins wended his way to the Victoria, mulling over
this and that phase, all matters little and big that bore upon the
chase. Mac's. In one of the little red circles the doctor had
traced that abbreviation. That could signify nothing except that
the doctor had a friend down there somewhere, on an island in one
of those archipelagoes. But the sheer immensity of the tract! James
Boyle was certainly up against it, hard. One chance in a thousand,
and that would be the girl. She wouldn't be able to pass by
anywhere without folks turning their heads.

Of course he hadn't played the game wisely. But what the deuce! He
was human; he was a machine only when on the hunt. He had found
Spurlock. In his condition the boy apparently had been as safe as
in the lock-up. Why shouldn't James Boyle pinch out a little fun
while waiting? How was he to anticipate the girl and the sea-tramp
called _The Tigress_? Something that wasn't in the play at all but
had walked out of the scenery like the historical black cat?

"I'll have to punish a lot of tobacco to get the kinks out of this.
Sure Mike!"

At the hotel he wrote a long letter to his chief, explaining every
detail of the fizzle. Later he dispatched a cable announcing the
escape and the sending of the letter. When he returned to Hong-Kong,
there was a reply to his cable:

"Hang on. Find that boy."

Some order. South America was big; but ten thousand islands,
scattered all over the biggest ocean on the map! Nearly all of them
clear of the ship lanes and beaten tracks! The best thing he could
do would be to call up the Quai d'Orsay and turn over the job to
Lecocq. Only a book detective could dope this out.

What he needed most in this hour was a bottle of American rye-whisky
and a friendly American bar-keep to talk to. He regretted now that
in his idle hours he hadn't hunted up one against the rainy day. The
barmaids had too strongly appealed to his sense of novelty. So he
marched into the street, primarily bent upon making the favourable
discovery. If there was a Yankee bar-keep in Hong-Kong, James Boyle
would soon locate him. No blowzy barmaids for him to-day: an
American bar-keep to whom he could tell his troubles and receive the
proper meed of sympathy.

The sunshine was brilliant, the air mild. The hotel on the Peak had
the aspect of a fairy castle. The streets were full of colour.
O'Higgins wandered into this street and that, studying the signs
and resenting the Britisher's wariness in using too much tin and
paint. This niggardliness compelled him to cross and recross
streets.

Suddenly he came to a stop, his mouth agape.

"Solid ivory!" he said aloud; "solid from dome to neck! That's
James Boyle in the family group. And if I hadn't been thirsty, that
poor boob would have made a sure getaway and left James Boyle high
and dry among the moth-balls! Oh, the old dome works once every so
often. Fancy, as they say hereabouts!"

What had aroused this open-air monologue was a small tin sign in a
window. Marine Insurance. Here was a hole as wide as a church-door.
What could be simpler than, with a set of inquiries relative to a
South Sea tramp registered as _The Tigress_, to make a tour of all
the marine insurance companies in Hong-Kong? O'Higgins proceeded to
put the idea into action; and by noon he had in his possession a
good working history of the owner of _The Tigress_ and the exact
latitude and longitude of his island.

He cabled to New York: "Probable destination known."

"Make it positive," was the brisk reply.

O'Higgins made it positive; but it required five weeks of broken
voyages: with dilapidated hotels, poor food, poor tobacco, and
evil-smelling tramps. It took a deal of thought to cast a
comprehensive cable, for it had to include where Spurlock was, what
he was doing, and the fact that O'Higgins's letter of credit would
not now carry him and Spurlock to San Francisco. The reply he
received this time put him into a state of continuous bewilderment.

"Good work. Come home alone."



CHAPTER XX


To Spurlock it seemed as if a great iron door had swung in behind
him, shutting out the old world. He was safe, out of the beaten
track, at last really comparable to the needle in the haystack. The
terrific mental tension of the past few months--that had held his
bodily nourishment in a kind of strangulation--became as a dream;
and now his vitals responded rapidly to food and air. On the second
day out he was helped to a steamer-chair on deck; on the third day,
his arm across Ruth's shoulder, he walked from his chair to the
foremast and back. The will to live had returned.

For five days _The Tigress_ chugged her way across the burnished
South China, grumpily, as if she resented this meddling with her
destiny. She had been built for canvas and oil-lamps, and this new
thingumajig that kept her nose snoring at eight knots when normally
she was able to boil along at ten, and these unblinking things they
called lamps (that neither smoked nor smelled), irked and
threatened to ruin her temper.

On the sixth day, however, they made the strong southwest trade,
and broke out the canvas, stout if dirty; and _The Tigress_
answered as a bird released. Taking the wind was her business in
life. She creaked, groaned, and rattled; but that was only her way
of yawning when she awoke.

The sun-canvas was stowed; and Spurlock's chair was set forward the
foremast, where the bulging jib cast a sliding blue shadow over
him. Rather a hazardous spot for a convalescent, and McClintock had
been doubtful at first; but Spurlock declared that he was a good
sailor, which was true. He loved the sea, and could give a good
account of himself in any weather. And this was an adventure of
which he had dreamed from boyhood: aboard a windjammer on the South
Seas.

There were mysterious sounds, all of them musical. There were swift
actions, too: a Kanaka crawled out upon the bowsprit to make taut a
slack stay, while two others with pulley-blocks swarmed aloft.
Occasionally the canvas snapped as the wind veered slightly. The
sea was no longer rolling brass; it was bluer than anything he had
ever seen. Every so often a wall of water, thin and jade-coloured,
would rise up over the port bow, hesitate, and fall smacking
amidships. Once the ship faltered, and the tip of this jade wall
broke into a million gems and splashed him liberally. Ruth,
standing by, heard his true laughter for the first time.

This laughter released something that had been striving for
expression--her own natural buoyancy. She became as _The Tigress_,
a free thing. She dropped beside the chair, sat cross-legged, and
laughed at the futile jade-coloured wall. There was no past, no
future, only this exhilarating present. Yesterday!--who cared?
To-morrow!--who knew?

"Porpoise," she said, touching his hand.

"Fox-terriers of the sea; friends with every ship that comes along.
Funny codgers, aren't they?" he said.

"When you are stronger we'll go up to the cutwater and watch them
from there."

"I have . . . from many ships."

A shadow, which was not cast by the jib, fell upon them both. His
voice had changed, the joy had gone out of it; and she understood
that something from the past had rolled up to spoil this hour. But
she did not know what he knew, that it would always be rolling up,
enlivened by suggestion, no matter how trifling.

What had actually beaten him was not to have known if someone had
picked up his trail. The acid of this incertitude had disintegrated
his nerve; and in Canton had come the smash. But that was all over.
Nobody could possibly find him now. The doctor would never betray
him. He might spend the rest of his days at McClintock's in perfect
security.

McClintock, coming from below, saw them and went forward. "Well,
how goes it?" he asked.

"Thank you, sir," said Spurlock, holding out his hand.

McClintock, without comment, accepted the hand. He rather liked the
"sir"; it signified both gratefulness and the chastened spirit.

"And I want to thank you, too," supplemented Ruth.

"Tut, tut! Don't exaggerate. I needed a man the worst kind of way--a
man I could keep for at least six months. What do you think of the
old tub?"

"She's wonderful!" cried Ruth. "I love her already. I had no idea
she could go so fast."

"Know anything about ships?"

"This kind. I have seen many of them. Once a sick sailor drew three
pictures for me and set down every stay and brace and
sail--square-rigger, schooner, and sloop. But this is the first time
I ever sailed on any one of the three. And I find I can't tell one
stay from another!"

McClintock laughed. "You can't go to sea with a book of rules. _The
Tigress_ is second-hand, built for coast-trade. There used to be an
after deckhouse and a shallow well for the wheel; but I changed
that. Wanted a clean sweep for elbow-room. Of course I ought to
have some lights over the saloon; but by leaving all the cabin
doors open in the daytime, there's plenty of daylight. She's not
for pleasure, but for work. Some day I'm going to paint her; but
that will be when I've retired."

Ruth laughed. "The doctor said something about that."

"I'll tell you really why I keep her in peeled paint. Natives are
queer. I have established a fine trade. She is known everywhere
within the radius of five hundred miles. But if I painted her as
I'd like to, the natives would instantly distrust me; and I'd have
to build up confidence all over again. I did not know you spoke
Kanaka," he broke off.

"So the wheelman told you? I've always spoken it, though I can
neither read nor write it."

"I never heard of anybody who could," declared McClintock. "I have
had Kanakas who could read and write in Dutch, and English, though.
The Kanaka--which means man--is a Sandwich Islander, with a Malayan
base. He's the only native I trust in these parts. My boys are all
Sandwich Island born. I wouldn't trust a Malay, not if he were
reared in the Vatican."

Spurlock, who was absorbing this talk thirstily, laughed.

"What's that?" demanded McClintock.

"The idea of a Malay, born Mahometan, being reared in the Vatican,
hit me as funny."

"It would be funny--just as a trustworthy Malay would be funny. I
have a hundred of them--mixed blood--on my island, and they are
always rooking me. But none ever puts his foot on this boat.
To-morrow we'll raise our first island. And from then on we'll see
them, port and starboard, to the end of the voyage. I've opened the
case of books. They're on the forward lounge in the saloon. Take
your pick, Mrs. Spurlock."

The shock of hearing this title pronounced was equally distributed
between Ruth and her husband; but it aroused two absolutely
different emotions. There came to Spurlock the recurrence of the
grim resolution of what he had set out to do: that comradeship was
all he might ever give this exquisite creature; for she was
exquisite, and in a way she dominated this picture of sea and sky
and sail. Ruth's emotion was a primitive joy: she was essential in
this man's life, and she would always be happy because he would
always be needing her.

"You will be wanting your broth, Hoddy," she said. "I'll fetch it."

She made the companion without touching stay or rail, which
necessitated a fine sense of balance, for there was a growing
vigour to the wind and a corresponding lift to the roll of the sea.
The old-fashioned dress, with its series of ruffles and printed
flowers, ballooned treacherously, revealing her well-turned leg in
silk stockings, as it snapped against her body as a mould.

Silk. In Singapore that had been her only dissipation: a dozen
pairs of silk stockings. She did not question or analyze the
craving; she took the plunge joyously. It was the first expression
of the mother's blood. Woman's love of silk is not set by fashion;
it is bred in the bone; and somewhere, somehow, a woman will have
her bit of silk.

McClintock watched her interestedly until her golden head vanished
below; then, with tolerant pity, he looked down at Spurlock, who
had closed his eyes. She would always be waiting upon this boy, he
mused. Proper enough now, when he could not help himself, but the
habit would be formed; and when he was strong again it would become
the normal role, hers to give and his to receive. He wondered if
the young fool had any idea of what he had drawn in this tragic
lottery called marriage. Probably hadn't. As for that, what man
ever had?

"That's a remarkable young woman," he offered, merely to note what
effect it would have.

Spurlock looked up. "She's glorious!" He knew that he must hoodwink
this keen-eyed Scot, even as he must hoodwink everybody: publicly,
the devoted husband; privately, the celibate. He was continually
dramatizing the future, anticipating the singular role he had
elected to play. He saw it in book-covers, on the stage. "Did you
ever see the like of her?"

"No," answered McClintock, gravely. "I wonder how she picked up
Kanaka? On her island they don't talk Kanaka lingo."

Her island! How well he knew it, thought Spurlock, for all he
lacked the name and whereabouts! Suddenly a new thought arose and
buffeted him. How little he knew about Ruth--the background from
which she had sprung! He knew that her father was a missioner, that
her mother was dead, that she had been born on this island, and
that, at the time of his collapse, she had been on the way to an
aunt in the States. But what did he know beyond these facts?
Nothing, clearly. Oh, yes; of Ruth herself he knew much; but the
more he mulled over what he knew, the deeper grew his chagrin. The
real Ruth was as completely hidden as though she stood behind the
walls of Agra Fort. But after all, what did it matter whether she
had secrets or not? To him she was not a woman but a symbol; and
one did not investigate the antecedents of symbols.

"She tells me there was a Kanaka cook; been in the family as long
as she can remember."

"I see. I deal with the Malay mostly; but twice a year I visit
islands occupied by the true blacks, recently cured of their
ancient taste for long-pig."

"What's that?"

"Think it over," said McClintock, grimly.

"Good Lord!--cannibals?"

"Aye. Someday I'll take you down there and have them rig up the
coconut dance for you. The Malays have one, too, but it's a rank
imitation, tom-toms and all. But what I want to get at is this. If
your wife can coach you a bit in native lingo, it will help all
round. I have two Malay clerks in the store; but I'm obliged to
have a white man to watch over them, or they'd clean me out. Single
pearls--Lord knows where they come from!--are always turning up,
some of them of fine lustre; but I never set eyes on them. My boys
buy them with beads or bolts of calico of mine. They steal over to
Copeley's at night and dispose of the pearl for cash. That's how I
finally got wind of it. Primarily your job will be to balance the
stores against the influx of coconut and keep an eye on these boys.
There'll be busy days and idle. Everything goes--the copra for oil,
the fibre of the husk for rope, and the shell for carbon. If you
fall upon a good pearl, buy it in barter and pay me out of your
salary."

"Pearls!"

"Sounds romantic, eh? Well, forty years ago the pearl game
hereabouts was romantic; but there's only one real pearl region
left--the Persian Gulf. In these waters the shell has about given
out. Still, they bob up occasionally. I need a white man, if only
to talk to; and it will be a god send to talk to someone of your
intelligence. The doctor said you wrote."

"Trying to."

"Well, you'll have lots of time down there."

Here Ruth returned with the broth; and McClintock strode aft,
convinced that he was going to have something far more interesting
than books to read.

Spurlock stared at Ruth across the rim of his bowl. He was vaguely
uneasy; he knew not what about. Here was the same Ruth who had left
him a few minutes since: the same outwardly; and yet...!

On the ninth day Spurlock was up and about; that is, he was strong
enough to walk alone, from the companion to his chair, to lean upon
the rail when the chair grew irksome, to join Ruth and his employer
at lunch and dinner: strong enough to argue about books, music,
paintings. He was, in fact, quite eager to go on living.

Ruth drank in these intellectual controversies, storing away facts.
What she admired in her man was his resolute defense of his
opinions. McClintock could not browbeat him, storm as he might. But
whenever the storm grew dangerous, either McClintock or Spurlock
broke into saving laughter.

McClintock would bang his fist upon the table. "I wouldn't give a
betel-nut for a man who wouldn't stick to his guns, if he believed
himself in the right. We'll have some fun down there at my place,
Spurlock; but we'll probably bore your wife to death."

"Oh, no!" Ruth protested. "I have so much to learn."

"Aye," said McClintock, in a tone so peculiar that it sent
Spurlock's glance to his plate.

"All my life I've dreamed of something like this," he said,
divertingly, with a gesture which included the yacht. "These
islands that come out of nowhere, like transparent amethyst, that
deepen to sapphire, and then become thickly green! And always the
white coral sand rimming them--emeralds set in pearls!"

"'A thing of beauty is a joy forever!'" quoted McClintock. "But I
like Bobby Burns best. He's neighbourly; he has a jingle for every
ache and joy I've had."

So Ruth heard about the poets; she became tolerably familiar with
the exploits of that engaging ruffian Cellini; she heard of the
pathetic deafness of Beethoven; she was thrilled, saddened,
exhilarated; and on the evening of the twelfth day she made bold to
enter the talk.

"There is something in The Tale of Two Cities that is wonderful,"
she said.

"That's a fine tale," said Spurlock. "The end is the most beautiful
in English literature. 'It is a far, far better thing that I do,
than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to,
than I have ever known.' That has always haunted me."

"I liked that, too," she replied; "but it wasn't that I had in
mind. Here it is." She opened the book which she had brought to the
table. "'A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human
creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to
every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city at
night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its
own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own
secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of
breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart
nearest it!' ... It kind of terrifies me," said Ruth, looking up,
first at the face of her husband, then at McClintock's. "No matter
how much I tell of myself, I shall always keep something back. No
matter how much you tell me, you will always keep something back."

Neither man spoke. McClintock stared into the bowl of his pipe and
Spurlock into his coffee cup. But McClintock's mind was perceptive,
whereas Spurlock's was only dully confused. The Scot understood
that, gently and indirectly, Ruth was asking her husband a
question, opening a door if he cared to enter.

So the young fool had not told her! McClintock had suspected as
much. Everything in this world changed--except human folly. This
girl was strong and vital: how would she take it when she learned
that she had cast her lot with a fugitive from justice? For
McClintock was certain that Spurlock was a hunted man. Well, well;
all he himself could do would be to watch this singular drama
unroll.

The night before they made McClintock's Ruth and Spurlock leaned
over the rail, their shoulders touching. It might have been the
moon, or the phosphorescence of the broken water, or it might have
been his abysmal loneliness; but suddenly he caught her face in his
hands and kissed her on the mouth.

"Oh!" she gasped. "I did not know ... that it was ... like that!"
She stepped back; but as his hands fell she caught and held them
tightly. "Please, Hoddy, always tell me when do I things wrong. I
never want you to be ashamed of me. I will do anything and
everything I can to become your equal."

"You will never become that, Ruth. But if God is kind to me,
someday I may climb up to where you are. I'd like to be alone now.
Would you mind?"

She wanted another kiss, but she did not know how to go about it;
so she satisfied the hunger by pressing his hands to her thundering
heart. She let them fall and sped to the companion, where she stood
for a moment, the moonlight giving her a celestial touch. Then she
went below.

Spurlock bent his head to the rail. The twists in his brain had
suddenly straightened out; he was normal, wholly himself; and he
knew now exactly what he had done.



CHAPTER XXI


McClintock's island was twelve miles long and eight miles wide,
with the shape of an oyster. The coconut plantation covered the
west side. From the white beach the palms ran in serried rows
quarter of a mile inland, then began a jungle of bamboo, gum-tree,
sandalwood, plantain, huge fern, and choking grasses. The south-east
end of the island was hillocky, with volcanic subsoil. There was
plenty of sweet water.

The settlement was on the middle west coast. The stores, the drying
bins, McClintock's bungalows and the native huts sprawled around an
exquisite landlocked lagoon. One could enter and leave by proa, but
nothing with a keel could cross the coral gate. The island had
evidently grown round this lagoon, approached it gradually from the
volcanic upheaval--an island of coral and lava.

There were groves of cultivated guava, orange, lemon, and
pomegranate. The oranges were of the Syrian variety, small but
filled with scarlet honey. This fruit was McClintock's particular
pride. He had brought the shrubs down from Syria, and, strangely
enough, they had prospered.

"Unless you have eaten a Syrian orange," he was always saying, "you
have only a rudimentary idea of what an orange is."

The lemons had enormously thick skins and were only mildly
acidulous--sweet lemons, they were called; and one found them
delicious by dipping the slices in sugar.

But there was an abiding serpent in this Eden. McClintock had
brought from Penang three mangosteen evergreens; and, wonders of
wonders, they had thrived--as trees. But not once in these ten
years had they borne blossom or fruit. The soil was identical, the
climate; still, they would not bear the Olympian fruit, with its
purple-lined jacket and its snow-white pulp. One might have said
that these trees grieved for their native soil; and, grieving,
refused to bear.

Of animal life, there was nothing left but monkeys and wild pig,
the latter having been domesticated. Of course there were goats.
There's an animal! He thrives in all zones, upon all manner of
food. He may not be able to eat tin-cans, but he tries to. The
island was snake-free.

There were all varieties of bird-life known in these latitudes,
from the bird of paradise down to the tiny scarlet-beaked
love-birds. There were always parrots and parrakeets screaming in
the fruit groves.

The bungalows and stores were built of heavy bamboo and gum-wood;
sprawly, one-storied affairs; for the typhoon was no stranger in
these waters. Deep verandas ran around the bungalows, with bamboo
drops which were always down in the daytime, fending off the
treacherous sunshine. White men never went abroad without helmets.
The air might be cool, but half an hour without head-gear was an
invitation to sunstroke.

Into this new world, vivid with colour, came Spurlock, receptively.
For a few days he was able to relegate his conscience to the
background. There was so much to see, so much to do, that he became
what he had once been normally, a lovable boy.

McClintock was amused. He began really to like Spurlock, despite
the shadow of the boy's past, despite his inexplicable attitude
toward this glorious girl. To be sure, he was attentive,
respectful; but in his conduct there was none of that shameless
_camaraderie_ of a man who loved his woman and didn't care a hang
if all the world knew it. If the boy did not love the girl, why the
devil had he dragged her into this marriage?

Spurlock was a bit shaky bodily, but his brain was functioning
clearly; and, it might be added, swiftly--as the brain always acts
when confronted by a perplexing riddle. No matter how swiftly he
pursued this riddle, he could not bring it to a halt. Why had Ruth
married _him_? A penniless outcast, for she must have known he was
that. Why had she married him, off-hand, like that? She did not
love him, or he knew nothing of love signs. Had she too been flying
from something and had accepted this method of escape? But what
frying-pan could be equal to this fire?

All this led him back to the original circle. He saw the colossal
selfishness of his act; but he could not beg off on the plea of
abnormality. He had been ill; no matter about that: he recollected
every thought that had led up to it and every act that had
consummated the deed.

To make Ruth pay for it! He wanted to get away, into some immense
echoless tract where he could give vent to this wild laughter which
tore at his vitals. To make Ruth pay for the whole shot! To wash
away his sin by crucifying her: that was precisely what he had set
about. And God had let him do it! He was--and now he perfectly
understood that he was--treading the queerest labyrinth a man had
ever entered.

Why had he kissed her? What had led him into that? Neither love nor
passion--utter blankness so far as reducing the act to terms. He
had kissed his wife on the mouth ... and had been horrified! There
was real madness somewhere along this road.

He was unaware that his illness had opened the way to the inherent
conscience and that the acquired had been temporarily blanketed, or
that there was any ancient fanaticalism in his blood. He saw what
he had done only as it related to Ruth. He would have to go on; he
would be forced to enact all the obligations he had imposed upon
himself.

His salvation--if there was to be any--lay in her ignorance of
life. But she could not live in constant association with him
without having these gaps filled. And when she learned that she had
been doubly cheated, what then? His thoughts began to fall on her
side of the scales, and his own misery grew lighter as he
anticipated hers. He was an imaginative young man.

Never again would he repeat that kiss; but at night when they
separated, he would touch her forehead with his lips, and sometimes
he would hold her hand in his and pat it.

"I'll have my cot in here," said Spurlock to Ruth, "where this
table is. You never can tell. I'm likely to get up any time in the
night to work."

Together they were making habitable the second bungalow, which was
within calling distance of McClintock's. They had scrubbed and
dusted, torn down and hung up until noon.

"Whatever you like, Hoddy," she agreed, wiping the sweat from her
forehead. She was vaguely happy over this arrangement which put her
in the wing across the middle hall, alone. "This will be very
comfortable."

"Isn't that lagoon gorgeous? I wonder if there'll be sharks?"

"Not in the lagoon. Mr. McClintock says they can't get in there, or
at least they never try it."

"Lord!--think of having sharks for neighbours? Every morning I'll
take a dip into the lagoon. That'll tune me up."

"But don't ever swim off the main beach without someone with you."

"I wonder where the deuce I'll be able to get some writing paper?
I'm crazy to get to work again."

"Probably Mr. McClintock will have some."

"I sha'n't want these curtains. You take them. The veranda bamboo
will be enough for me."

He stuffed the printed chintz into her arms and smiled into her
eyes. And the infernal thought of that kiss returned--the softness
of her lips and the cool smoothness of her cheeks. He turned
irresolutely to the table upon which lay the scattered leaves of
his old manuscripts.

"I believe I'll tear them up. So long as they're about, I'll always
be rewriting them and wasting my time."

"Let me have them."

"What for? What do you want of them?"

"Why, they are ... yours. And I don't want anything of yours
destroyed, Hoddy. Those were dreams."

"All right, then." He shifted the pages together, rolled and thrust
them under her arm. "But don't ever let me see them again. By
George, I forgot! McClintock said there was a typewriter in the
office and that I could have it. I'll dig it up. I'll be feeling
fine in no time. The office is a sight--not one sheet of paper on
another; bills and receipts everywhere. I'll have to put some pep
into the game--American pep. It will take a month to clean up. I've
been hunting for this particular job for a thousand years!"

She smiled a little sadly over this fine enthusiasm; for in her
wisdom she had a clear perception where it would eventually end--in
the veranda chair. All this--the island and its affairs--was an old
story; but her own peculiar distaste had vanished to a point
imperceptible, for she was seeing the island through her husband's
eyes, as in the future she would see all things.

For Ruth was in love, tenderly and beautifully in love; but she did
not know how to express it beyond the fetch and carry phase. Her
heart ached; and that puzzled her. Love was joy, and joyous she was
when alone. But in his presence a wall of diffidence and timidity
encompassed her.

The call of youth to youth, and we name it love for want of
something better: a glamorous, evanescent thing "like snow upon the
desert's dusty face, lighting a little hour or two, was gone." Man
is a peculiar animal. No matter what the fire and force of his
passion, it falters eventually, and forever after smoulders or goes
out. He has nothing to fall back upon, no substitute; but a woman
always has the mother love. When the disillusion comes, when the
fairy story ends, if she is blessed with children, she doesn't
mind. If she has no children, she goes on loving her husband; but
he is no longer a man but a child.

A dog appeared unexpectedly upon the threshold. He was yellow and
coarse of hair; flea-bitten, too; and even as he smiled at Ruth and
wagged his stumpy tail, he was forced to turn savagely upon one of
these disturbers who had no sense of the fitness of things.

"Well, well; look who's here!" cried Spurlock.

He started toward the dog with the idea of ejecting him, but Ruth
intervened.

"No, please! It is good luck for a dog to enter your house. Let me
keep him."

"What? Good Lord, he's alive with fleas! They'll be all over the
place."

"Please!"

She dropped the curtains and the manuscripts, knelt and held out
her arms. The dog approached timidly, his tail going furiously. He
suspected a trap. The few whites he had ever known generally
offered to pet him when they really wanted to kick him. But when
Ruth's hand fell gently upon his bony head, he knew that no one in
this house would ever offer him a kick. So he decided to stay.

"You want him?"

"Please!" said Ruth.

"All right. What'll we call him--Rollo?"--ironically.

"I never had a pet. I never had even a real doll," she added, as
she snuggled the flea-bitten head to her heart. "See how glad he
is!"

His irony and displeasure subsided. She had never had a pet, never
had a real doll. Here was a little corner of the past--a tragic
corner. He knew that tragedy was as blind as justice, that it
struck the child and the grown-up impartially. He must never refuse
her anything which was within his power to grant--anything (he
modified) which did not lead to his motives.

"You poor child!--you can have all the dogs on the island, if you
want them! Come along to the kitchen, and we'll give Rollo a
tubbing."

And thus their domesticity at McClintock's began--with the tubbing
of a stray yellow dog. It was an uproarious affair, for Rollo now
knew that he had been grieviously betrayed: they were trying to
kill him in a new way. Nobody will ever know what the fleas
thought.

The two young fools laughed until they cried. They were drenched
with water and suds. Their laughter, together with the agonized
yowling of the dog, drew a circle of wondering natives; and at
length McClintock himself came over to see what the racket was
about. When he saw, his roars could be heard across the lagoon.

"You two will have this island by the ears," he said, wiping his
eyes. "Those boys out there think this is some new religious rite
and that you are skinning the dog alive to eat him!"

The shock of this information loosened Spurlock's grip on the dog,
who bolted out of the kitchen and out of the house, maintaining his
mile-a-minute gait until he reached the jungle muck, where he
proceeded to neutralize the poison with which he had been lathered
by rolling in the muck.

But they found him on the veranda when they returned from
McClintock's that evening. He had forgiven everybody. From then on
he was Ruth's dog.

Nothing else so quickly establishes the condition of comradeship as
the sharing of a laughable incident. Certain reserves went down on
both sides. Spurlock discussed the affairs of the island and Ruth
gave him in exchange her adventures with the native girl who was to
be their servant.

This getting up at dawn--real dawn--and working until seven was a
distinct novelty. From then until four in the afternoon there was
nothing to do--the whole island went to sleep. Even the chattering
monkeys, parrots, and parrakeets departed the fruit groves for the
smelly dark of the jungle. If, around noon, a coconut proa landed,
the boys made no effort to unload. They hunted up shady nooks and
went to sleep; but promptly at four they would be at the office,
ready for barter.

Spurlock had found the typewriter, oiled and cleaned it, and began
to practise on it in the night. He would never be able to compose
upon it, but it would serve to produce the finished work. Above the
work-table was a drop-light--kerosene. The odour of kerosene
permeated the bungalow; but Ruth mitigated the nuisance to some
extent by burning native punk in brass jars.

He was keen to get to work, but the inspiration would not come. He
started a dozen stories, but they all ended in the waste-basket.
Then, one night, he glanced up to behold Ruth and Rollo in the
doorway. She crooked her finger.

"What is it?"

"The night," she answered. "Come and see the lagoon in the
moonlight."

He drew down the lamp and blew it out, and followed her into the
night, more lovely than he had ever imagined night to be. There was
only one sound--the fall of the sea upon the main beach, and even
that said: "Hush! Hush! Hus-s-sh!" Not a leaf stirred, not a shadow
moved. The great gray boles of the palms reminded him of some
fabulous Grecian temple.

"Let us sit here," she said, indicating the white sand bordering
the lagoon; "and in a minute or two you will see something quite
wonderful . . . . There!"

Out of the dark unruffled sapphire of the lagoon came vertical
flashes of burning silver, singly and in groups.

"What in the world is it?" he asked.

"Flying fish. Something is feeding upon them. I thought you might
like to see. You might be able to use the picture some day."

"I don't know." He bent his head to his knees. "Something's wrong.
I can't invent; the thing won't come."

"Shall I tell you a real story?"

"Something you have seen?"

"Yes."

"Tell it. Perhaps what I need is something to bite in."

So she told him the adventure of the two beachcombers in the
typhoon, and how they became regenerated by their magnificent
courage.

"That's tremendous!" he cried. "Lord, if I can only remember to
write it exactly as you told it!" He jumped to his feet. "I'll
tackle it to-night!"

"But it's after ten!"

"What's that got to do with it? ... The roofs of the native huts
scattering in the wind! ... the absolute agony of the twisting
palms!.... and those two beggars laughing as they breasted death!
Girl, you've gone and done it!"

He leaned down and caught her by the hand, and then raced with her
to the bungalow.

Five hours later she tiptoed down the hall and paused at the
threshold of what they now called his study. There were no doors in
the bungalow; instead, there were curtains of strung bead and
bamboo, always tinkling mysteriously. His pipe hung dead in his
teeth, but the smoke was dense about him. His hand flew across the
paper. As soon as he finished a sheet, he tossed it aside and began
another. Occasionally he would lean back and stare at the window
which gave upon the sea. But she could tell by the dullness of his
eyes that he saw only some inner vision.

Unobserved, she knelt and kissed the threshold: for she knew what
kisses were now. The curtain tinkled as her head brushed it, but he
neither saw nor heard.



CHAPTER XXII


Every morning at dawn it was Spurlock's custom to take a plunge in
the lagoon. Ruth took hers in the sea, but was careful never to go
beyond her depth because of the sharks. She always managed to get
back to the bungalow before he did.

As she came in this morning she saw that the lamp was still burning
in the study; so she stopped at the door. Spurlock lay with his
head on his arms, asleep. The lamp was spreading soot over
everything and the reek of kerosene was stronger than usual. She
ran to the lamp and extinguished it. Spurlock slept on. It was
still too dark for reading, but she could see well enough to note
the number of the last page--fifty-six.

Ruth wore a printed cotton kimono. She tied the obi clumsily about
her waist, then gently laid her hand on the bowed head. He did not
move. Mischief bubbled up in her. She set her fingers in the hair
and tugged, drawing him to a sitting posture and stooping so that
her eyes would be on the level with his when he awoke.

He opened his eyes, protestingly, and beheld the realization of his
dream. He had been dreaming of Ruth--an old recurrency of that
dream he had had in Canton, of Ruth leading him to the top of the
mountain. For a moment he believed this merely a new phase of the
dream. He smiled.

"The Dawn Pearl!" he said, making to recline again.

But she was relentless. "Hoddy, wake up!" She jerked his head to
and fro until the hair stung.

"What?... Oh!... Well, good Lord!" He wrenched loose his head and
stood up, sending the chair clattering to the floor. Rollo barked.

"Go and take your plunge while I attend to breakfast."

He started to pick up a sheet of manuscript, but she pushed him
from the table toward the doorway; and he staggered out of the
bungalow, suddenly stretched his arms, and broke into a trot.

Ruth returned to the table. The tropical dawn is swift. She could
now see to read; so she stirred the manuscript about until she came
upon the first page. "The Beachcombers."

Romance! The Seven Seas are hers. She roves the blue fields of the
North, with the clean North Wind on her lips and her blonde head
jewelled with frost--mocking valour and hardihood! Out of the West
she comes, riding the great ships and the endless steel ways that
encompass the earth, and smoke comes with her and the glare of
furnace fires--commerce! From the East she brings strange words
upon her tongue and strange raiment upon her shoulders and the
perfume of myrrh--antiquity! But oh! when she springs from the
South, her rosy feet trailing the lotus, ripe lequats wreathing her
head, in one hand the bright torch of danger and in the other the
golden apples of love, with her eyes full of sapphires and her
mouth full of pearls!

"With her eyes full of sapphires and her mouth full of pearls." All
day long the phrase interpolated her thoughts.

A week later the manuscript was polished and typewritten, ready for
the test. Spurlock felt very well pleased with himself. To have
written a short story in a week was rather a remarkable feat.

It was at breakfast on this day that he told Ruth he had sent to
Batavia for some dresses. They would arrive sometime in June.

"That gown is getting shabby."

Ruth spread out the ruffled skirt, sundrily torn and soiled. "I
haven't worn anything else in weeks. I haven't touched the other."

"Anything like that?"

"Yes; but the colour is lavender."

"Wear that to-night, then. It fits your style. You are very lovely,
Ruth."

She wanted to dance. The joy that filled her veins with throbbing
fire urged her to rise and go swinging and whirling and dipping.
She sat perfectly still, however.

"I am glad you think that," she replied. "Please tell me whenever I
am at fault."

"I wish you did have some faults, Ruth. You're an angel of
goodness."

"No, no! I have had wicked thoughts."

He laughed and pushed back his chair. "So has the butterfly evil
thoughts. We're to be given a treat to-night. McClintock will be
tuning up the piano to-day. I say, I'll take the yarn over and read
it to McClintock. That old chap has a remarkable range in reading.
But, hang it, I know it's good!"

"Of course it is!"

In the afternoon he began work on another tale. It was his purpose
to complete four or five stories before he sent any away. But to-day
he did not get beyond half a dozen desultory start-offs. From
McClintock's came an infernal _tinkle-tinkle, tump-tump_! There was
no composing with such a sound hammering upon the ear. But
eventually Spurlock laughed. Not so bad. Battle, murder, and sudden
death--and an old chap like McClintock tuning his piano in the
midst of it. He made a note of the idea and stored it away.

He read "The Beachcombers" to McClintock that night after coffee;
and when he had done, the old trader nodded.

"That's a good story, lad. You've caught the colour and the life.
But it sounds too real to be imagined. You've never seen a typhoon,
have you?"

"No."

"Well, imagination beats me!"

"It's something Ruth saw. She told me the tale the other night, and
I've only elaborated it."

"Ah, I see." McClintock saw indeed--two things: that the boy had no
conceit and that this odd girl would always be giving. "Well, it's
a good story."

He offered cigars, and Ruth got up. She always left the table when
they began to smoke. Spurlock had not coached her on this line of
conduct. Somewhere she had read that it was the proper thing to do
and that men liked to be alone with their tobacco. She hated to
leave; for this hour would be the most interesting. Both Spurlock
and McClintock stood by their chairs until she was gone.

"Yes, sir," said McClintock, as he sat down; "that's South Sea
stuff, that yarn of yours. I like the way you shared it. I have
read that authors are very selfish and self-centred."

"Oh, Ruth couldn't put it on paper, to be sure; but there was no
reason to hide the source."

"Have you told her?"

"Told her? Told her what?" Spurlock sat straight in his chair.

"You know what I mean," said the trader, gravely. "In spots you are
a thoroughbred; but here's a black mark on your ticket, lad. My
friend the doctor suspected it, and so do I. You are not a tourist
seeking adventure. You have all the earmarks of a fugitive from
justice."

Spurlock grew limp in his chair. "If you thought that, why did you
give me this job?"--his voice faint and thick.

"The doctor and I agreed to give you a chance--for her sake.
Without realizing what she has done, she's made a dreadful mess of
it. A child--as innocent as a child! Nothing about life; bemused by
the fairy stories you writers call novels! I don't know what you
have done; I don't care. But you must tell her."

"I can't! I can't--not now!"

"Bat!--can't you see that she's the kind who would understand and
forgive? She loves you."

The walls appeared to rock; bulging shadows reached out; the candle
flames became mocking eyes; and the blood drummed thunderously in
Spurlock's ears. The door to the apocalypse had opened!

"Loves me? . . . Ruth?"

"Why the devil not? Why do you suppose she married you if she
didn't love you? While you read I watched her face. It was in her
eyes--the big thing that comes but once. But you! Why the devil did
_you_ marry _her_? That's the thing that confounds me."

"God help me, what a muddle!" The cigar crumbled in Spurlock's
hand.

"All life is a muddle, and we are all muddlers, more or less. It is
a matter of degree. Lord, I am sixty. For thirty years I have lived
alone; but once upon a time I lived among men. I know life. I sit
back now, letting life slip by and musing upon it; and I find my
loneliness sweet. I have had my day; and there were women in it.
So, when I tell you she loves you, I know. Supposing they find you
and take you away?--and she unprepared? Have you thought of that?
Why did you marry her?"

"God alone knows!"

"And you don't love her! What kind of a woman do you want,
anyhow?"--with rising anger. He saw the tragedy on the boy's face;
but he was merciless. "Are you a poltroon, after all?"

"That's it! I ought to have died that night!"

"Or is there a taint of insanity in your family history? Alone and
practically penniless like yourself! You weren't even stirred by
gratitude. You just married her. Lad, that fuddles me!"

"Did you bring me down here to crucify me?" cried Spurlock, in
passionate rebellion.

"No, lad," said McClintock, his tone becoming kindly. "Only, what
you have done is out of all human calculation. You did not marry
her because you loved her; you did not marry because she might have
had money; you did not marry her out of gratitude; you did not
marry her because you had to. You just married her! But there she
is--'with her eyes full of sapphires and her mouth full of
pearls'!" McClintock quoted with gentle irony. "What have you got
there in your breast--a stone? Is there blood or water in your
veins?"

The dam broke, but not with violence. A vast relief filled
Spurlock's heart as he decided to tell this man everything which
related to Ruth. This island was the one haven he had; he might be
forced to remain here for several years--until the Hand had
forgotten him. He must win this man's confidence, even at the risk
of being called mad. So, in broken, rather breathless phrases, he
told his story; and when he had done, he laid his arms upon the
table and bent his head to them.

There followed a silence which endured several minutes; or, rather
a tableau. The candles--for McClintock never used oil in his dining
room--were burning low in the sconces. Occasionally the flames
would bend, twist and writhe crazily as the punka-boy bestirred
himself.

McClintock's astonishment merged into a state of mild hypnosis.
That any human being could conceive and execute such a thing! A
Roundhead, here in these prosaic times!--and mad as a hatter!
Trying the rôle of St. Anthony, when God Himself had found only one
man strong enough for that! McClintock shook his head violently, as
if to dismiss this dream he was having. But the objects in his
range of vision remained unchanged. Presently he reached out and
laid his hand upon Spurlock's motionless shoulders.

"'Tis a cruel thing you've done, lad. Even if you were sick in the
mind and did not understand what you were doing, it's a mighty
cruel thing you have done. Probably she mistook you; probably she
thought you cared. I'm neither an infidel nor an agnostic, so I'll
content myself by saying that the hand of God is in this somewhere.
'He's a good fellow, and 'twill all end well'. You have set out to
do something which is neither God's way nor man's. What'll you be
doing?"

"What can I do?" asked Spurlock, raising his haggard face. "Can't
you see? I can't hurt her, if ... if she cares! I can't tell her
I'm a madman as well as a thief!... What a fool! What a fool!"

A thief. McClintock's initial revulsion was natural; he was an
honest man. But this revulsion was engulfed by the succeeding waves
of pity and understanding. One transgression; he was sure of that.
The boy was all conscience, and he suffered through this conscience
to such lengths that the law would be impotent to add anything. All
this muddle to placate his conscience!

"Here--quick!" McClintock thrust a cigar into Spurlock's hand. "Put
it in your teeth and light it. I hear her coming."

Spurlock obeyed mechanically. The candle was shaking in his hand as
Ruth appeared in the doorway.

"I thought we were going to have some music," she said.

Her husband stared at her over the candle flame. Flesh and blood,
vivid, alluring; she was no longer the symbol, therefore she had
become, as in the twinkling of an eye, an utter stranger. And this
utter stranger ... loved him! He had no reason to doubt
McClintock's statement; the Scot had solved the riddle why Ruth
Enschede had married Howard Spurlock. All emotions laid hold of
him, but none could he stay long enough to analyze it. For a space
he rode the whirligig.

"We were talking shop," said McClintock, rising. Observing
Spurlock's spell-bound attitude, he clapped the boy on the
shoulder. "Come along! We'll start that concert right away."

In the living room Spurlock's glance was constantly drawn toward
Ruth; but in fear that she might sense something wrong, he walked
over to the piano and struck a few chords.

"You play?" asked McClintock, who was sorting the rolls.

"A little. This is a good piano."

"It ought to be; it cost enough to get it here," said the Scot,
ruefully. "Ever play one of these machines?"

"Yes. I've always been more or less music-mad. But machinery will
never approach the hand."

"I know a man.... But I'll tell you about him some other time. I'm
crazy over music, too. I can't pump out all there is to these
compositions. Try something."

Spurlock gratefully accepted the Grieg _concerto_, gratefully,
because it was brilliant and thunderous. _Papillon_ would have
broken him down; anything tender would have sapped his will; and
like as not he would have left the stool and rushed into the night.
He played for an hour--Grieg, Chopin, Rubenstein, Liszt, crashing
music. The action steadied him; and there was a phase of irony,
too, that helped. He had been for months without music of the
character he loved--and he dared not play any of it!

McClintock, after the music began, left the piano and sat in a
corner just beyond the circle of light cast by the lamp. His
interest was divided: while his ears drank in the sounds, his
glance constantly roved from Ruth to the performer and back to
Ruth. These amazing infants!

Suddenly he came upon the true solution: that the boy hadn't meant
to steal whatever it was he had stolen. A victim of one of those
mental typhoons that scatter irretrievably the barriers of instinct
and breeding; and he had gone on the rocks all in a moment. Never
any doubt of it. That handsome, finely drawn face belonged to a
soul with clean ideals. All in a moment. McClintock's heart went
out to Spurlock; he would always be the boy's friend, even though
he had dragged this girl on to the rocks with him.

Love and lavender, he thought, perhaps wistfully. He could remember
when women laid away their gowns in lavender--as this girl's mother
had. He would always be her friend, too. That boy--blind as a bat!
Why, he hadn't seen the Woman until to-night!

From the first chord of the Grieg _concerto_ to the _finale_ of the
Chopin _ballade_, Ruth had sat tensely on the edge of her chair.
She had dreaded the beginning of this hour. What would happen to
her? Would her soul be shaken, twisted, hypnotized?--as it had been
those other times? Music--that took out of her the sense of
reality, whirled her into the clouds, that gave to her will the
directless energy of a chip of wood on stormy waters. But before
the Grieg _concerto_ was done, she knew that she was free. Free!
All the fine ecstasy, without the numbing terror.

Spurlock sat limply, his arms hanging. McClintock, striking a match
to relight his cigar, broke the spell. Ruth sighed; Spurlock stood
up and drew his hand across his forehead as if awakening from a
dream.

"I didn't know the machine had such stuff in it," said McClintock.
"I imagine I must have a hundred rolls--all the old fellows. It's a
sorry world," he went on. "Nobody composes any more, nobody paints,
nobody writes--I mean, on a par with what we've just heard."

The clock tinkled ten. Shortly Ruth and Spurlock took the way home.
They walked in silence. With a finger crooked in his side-pocket,
she measured her step with his, her senses still dizzy from the
echo of the magic sounds. At the threshold of the study he bade her
good-night; but he did not touch her forehead with his lips.

"I feel like work," he lied. What he wanted desperately was to be
alone.

"But you are tired!"

"I want to go over the story again."

"Mr. McClintock liked it."

"He couldn't help it, Ruth. It's big, thanks to you."

"You.... need me a little?"

"Not a little, but a great deal."

That satisfied something of her undefined hunger. She went to her
bedroom, but she did not go to bed. She drew a chair to the window
and stared at the splendour of the tropical night. By and by she
heard the screen door. Hollo rumbled in his throat.

"Hush!" she said.

Presently she saw Spurlock on the way to the lagoon. He walked with
bent head. After quarter of an hour, she followed.

The unexpected twist--his disclosure to McClintock--had given
Spurlock but temporary relief. The problem had returned, made
gigantic by the possibility of Ruth's love. The thought allured
him, and therein lay the danger. If it were but the question of his
reason for marrying her, the solution would have been simple. But
he was a thief, a fugitive from justice. On that basis alone, he
had no right to give or accept love.

Had he been sick in the mind when he had done this damnable thing?
It did not seem possible, for he could recall clearly all he had
said and done; there were no blank spaces to give him one straw of
excuse.

Ruth loved him. It was perfectly logical. And he could not return
this love. He must fight the thought continually, day in and day
out. The Dawn Pearl! To be with her constantly, with no diversions
to serve as barricades! Damn McClintock for putting this thought in
his head--that Ruth loved him!

He flung himself upon the beach, face downward, his outflung hands
digging into the sand: which was oddly like his problem--he could
not grip it. Torment!

And so Ruth discovered him. She was about to rush to his side, when
she saw his clenched hands rise and fall upon the sand repeatedly.
Her heart swelled to suffocation. To go to him, to console him! But
she stirred not from her hiding place. Instinctively she knew--some
human recollection she had inherited--that she must not disturb him
in this man-agony. She could not go to him when it was apparent
that he needed her beyond all other instances! What had caused this
agony did not matter--then. It was enough that she witnessed it and
could not go to him.

By and by--as the paroxysm subsided and he became motionless--she
stole back to the bungalow to wait. Through her door curtain she
could see the light from the study lamp. If, when he returned, he
blew out the light, she would go to bed; but if the light burned on
for any length of time, she would go silently to the study curtain
to learn if his agony was still upon him. She heard him come in;
the light burned on.

She discovered him sitting upon the floor beside his open trunk. He
had something across his knees. At first she could not tell what it
was; but as her eyes became accustomed to the light, she recognized
the old coat.



CHAPTER XXIII


Next morning Ruth did not refer to the episode on the sands of the
lagoon. Here again instinct guided her. If he had nothing to tell
her, she had nothing to ask. She did not want particularly to know
what had caused his agony, what had driven him back to the old
coat. He was in trouble and she could not help him; that was the
ache in her heart.

At breakfast both of them played their parts skillfully. There was
nothing in his manner to suggest the misery of the preceding night.
There was nothing on her face to hint of the misery that brimmed
her heart this morning. So they fenced with smiles.

He noted that she was fully dressed, that her hair was carefully
done, that there was a knotted ribbon around her throat. It now
occurred to him that she had always been fully dressed. He did not
know--and probably never would unless she told him--that it was
very easy (and comfortable for a woman) to fall into slatternly
ways in this latitude. So long as she could remember, her father
had never permitted her to sit at the table unless she came fully
dressed. Later, she understood his reasons; and it had now become
habit.

Fascination. It would be difficult to find another human being
subjected to so many angles of attack as Spurlock. Ruth loved him.
This did not tickle his vanity; on the contrary, it enlivened his
terror, which is a phase of fascination. She loved him. That held
his thought as the magnet holds the needle, inescapably. The mortal
youth in him, then, was fascinated, the thinker, the poet; from all
sides Ruth attacked him, innocently. The novel danger of the
situation enthralled him. He saw himself retreating from barricade
to barricade, Ruth always advancing, perfectly oblivious of the
terror she inspired.

While he was stirring his tea, she ran and fetched the comb. She
attacked his hair resolutely. He laughed to hide his uneasiness.
The touch of her hands was pleasurable.

"The part was crooked," she explained.

"I don't believe McClintock would have gone into convulsions at the
sight of it. Anyhow, ten minutes after I get to work I'll be
rumpling it."

"That isn't the point, Hoddy. You don't notice the heat; but it is
always there, pressing down. You must always shave and part your
hair straight. It doesn't matter that you deal with black people.
It isn't for their sakes, it's for your own. Mr. McClintock does
it; and he knows why. In the morning and at night he is dressed as
he would dress in the big hotels. In the afternoon he probably
loafs in his pajamas. You can, too, if you wish.."

"All right, teacher; I'll shave and comb my hair." He rose for fear
she might touch him again.

But such is the perversity of the human that frequently thereafter
he purposely crooked the part in his hair, to give her the excuse
to fetch the comb. Not that he deliberately courted danger; it was
rather the searcher, seeking analysis, the why and wherefore of
this or that invading emotion.

He was always tenderly courteous; he answered her ordinary
questions readily and her extraordinary ones patiently; he always
rose when she entered or left the room. This formality irked her:
she wanted to play a little, romp. The moment she entered the room
and he rose, she felt that she was immediately consigned to the
circle of strangers; and it emptied her heart of its joy and filled
it with diffidence. There was a wall; she was always encountering
it; the one time she was able to break through this wall was when
the part in his hair was crooked.

She began to exercise those lures which were bred in her bone--the
bones of all women. She required no instructions from books; her
wit and beauty were her own. What lends a tragic mockery to all
these tender traps of hers was that she was within lawful bounds.
This man was her husband in the eyes of both God and man.

But Spurlock was ever on guard, even when she fussed over his hair.
His analytical bent saved him many times, though he was not
sensitive to this. The fire--if there was any in him--never made
headway against this insistant demand to know the significance of
these manifold inward agitations.

Thus, more and more Ruth turned to the mongrel dog who bore the
name of Rollo unflinchingly--the dog that adored her openly,
shamelessly, who now without a whimper took his diurnal tubbing.
Upon this grateful animal she lavished that affection which was
subtly repelled by its lawful object.

Spurlock was by nature orderly, despite his literary activities.
Before the first month was gone, McClintock admitted that the boy
was a find. Accounts were now always where he could put his hand on
them. The cheating of the boys in the stores ceased. If there were
any pearls, none came into the light. Gradually McClintock shifted
the burden to Spurlock's shoulders and retired among his books and
music rolls.

Twice Spurlock went to Copeley's--twenty miles to the northwest--for
ice and mail. It was a port of call, since fortnightly a British
mail-boat dropped her mudhook in the bay. All sorts of battered
tramps, junks and riff-raff of the seas trailed in and out. Spurlock
was tremendously interested in these derelicts, and got a good deal
of information regarding them, which he stored away for future use.
There were electric and ice plants, and a great store in which one
could buy anything from jewsharps to gas-engines. White men and
natives dealt conveniently at Copeley's. It saved long voyages and
long waits; and the buyers rarely grumbled because the prices were
stiff. There were white men with families, a fine mission-house, and
a club-house for cards and billiards.

He was made welcome as McClintock's agent; but he politely declined
all the proffered courtesies. Getting back the ice was rather a
serious affair. He loaded the launch with a thousand pounds--all
she could carry--and started home immediately after sundown; but
even then he lost from a hundred to a hundred and fifty pounds
before he had the stuff cached in McClintock's bamboo-covered
sawdust pit. This ice was used for refrigerator purposes and for
McClintock's evening peg.

Ruth with Rollo as her guide explored the island. In the heart of
the jungle the dog had his private muck baths. Into one of these he
waded and rolled and rolled, despite her commands. At first she
thought he was endeavouring to rid himself of the fleas, but after
a time she came to understand that the muck had healing qualities
and soothed the burning scratches made by his claws. In the
presence of the husband of his mistress Rollo was always
dignifiedly cheerful, but he never leaped or cavorted as he did
when alone with Ruth.

Spurlock was fond of dogs; he was fond of this offspring of many
mesalliances; but he never made any attempt to win Rollo, to share
him. The dog was, in a sense, a gift of the gods. He filled the
rôle of comrade which Spurlock dared not enact, at least not
utterly as he would have liked. Yes--as he would have liked.

For Ruth grew lovelier as the days went on. She was as lovely in
the spirit as in the flesh. Her moods were many and always
striking. She was never violent when angry: she became as calm and
baffling as the sea in doldrums. She never grew angry for anything
her husband did: such anger as came to her was directed against the
lazy, incompetent servant who was always snooping about in the
inner temple--Spurlock's study.

She formed a habit which embarrassed Spurlock greatly, but at first
he dared not complain. She would come and sit cross-legged just
beyond the bamboo curtain and silently watch him at work. One night
she apparently fell asleep. He could not permit her to remain in
that position. So, very carefully, he raised her in his arms and
carried her to her bed. The moment he was out in the hall, Ruth sat
up hugging and rocking her body in delight. This charming episode
was repeated three times. Then he sensed the trap.

"Ruth, you must not come and sit on the threshold. I can't
concentrate on my work. It doesn't annoy me; it only disturbs me. I
can't help looking at you frequently. You don't want me to spoil
the story, do you?"

"No. But it's so wonderful to watch you! Whenever you have written
something beautiful, your face shows it."

"I know; but ..."

"And sometimes you say out loud: 'That's great stuff!' I never make
any sound."

"But it is the sight of you!"

"All right, Hoddy. I promise not to do it again." She rose. "Good
night."

He stared at the agitated curtain; and slowly his chin sank until
it touched his chest. He had hurt her. But the recollection of the
warm pliant body in his arms ...!

"I am a thief!" he whispered. He had only to recall this fact
(which he did in each crisis) to erect a barrier she could not go
around or over.

Sometimes it seemed to him that he was an impostor: that Ruth
believed him to be one Howard Spurlock, when he was only
masquerading as Spurlock. If ever the denouement came--if ever the
Hand reached him--Ruth would then understand why he had rebuffed
all her tender advances. The law would accord her all her previous
rights: she would return to the exact status out of which in his
madness he had taken her. She might even forgive him.

He thanked God for this talent of his. He could lose himself for
hours at a time. Whatever he wrote he was: he became this or that
character, he suffered or prospered equally. He was the
beachcomber, or the old sailor with the black pearl (Ruth's tales),
or the wastrel musician McClintock had described to him. There was
a fourth story; but he never told either Ruth or McClintock about
this. He called it "The Man Who Could Not Go Home." Himself. He did
not write this with lead but with his heart's blood.

By the middle of July he was in full health. In the old days he had
been something of an athlete--a runner, an oarsman, and a crack at
tennis. The morning swims in the lagoon had thickened the red
corpuscle. For all the enervating heat, he applied himself
vigorously to his tasks.

Late in July he finished the fourth story. This time there wasn't
any doubt. He had done it. These were _yarns_! As he was about to
slip the manuscripts into the envelope, something caught his eye:
by Howard Spurlock. Entranced, he stared at the name. Suddenly he
understood what had happened. A wrathful God was watching him.
Howard Spurlock. The honey on his tongue turned to ashes. To write
under a pseudonym!--to be forced to disown his children! He could
not write under his own name, enjoy the fruits of fame should these
tales prove successful.

Here was a thundering blow. All his dreams shattered in an instant.
What is the supreme idea in the heart and mind of youth? To win
fame and fortune: and particularly to enjoy them. Spurlock slumped
in his chair, weak and empty. This was the bitterest hour he had
ever known. From thoughts of fame to thoughts of mere bread and
butter! It seemed to Spurlock that he had tumbled off the edge of
Somewhere into the abyss of Nowhere.

At length, when he saw no escape from the inevitable, he took the
four title pages from the manuscripts and typed new ones,
substituting Taber for Spurlock. A vast indifference settled down
upon him. He did not care whether the stories were accepted or not.
He was so depressed and disheartened that he did not then believe
he would ever write again.

Both Ruth and McClintock came down to the launch to wish him
God-speed and good luck. Ruth hugged the envelope and McClintock,
with the end of a burnt match, drew a cabalistic sign. Through it
all Spurlock maintained a gaiety which deceived them completely. But
his treasured dream lay shattered at his feet.

And yet--such is the buoyancy of youth--within a fortnight he began
his first novel, pretending to himself that it was on Ruth's
account. To be alone with her, in idleness, was an intolerable
thought.

       *       *       *       *       *

Coconuts grew perpetually. There will often be six growths in a
single palm. So proas loaded with nuts were always landing on the
beach. _The Tigress_ went prowling for nut, too. Once, both Ruth
and Spurlock accompanied McClintock far south, to an island of
blacks; and Spurlock had his first experience with the coconut
dance and the booming of wooden tom-toms.

At first Spurlock tasted coconut in his eggs, in what meat he ate;
it permeated everything, taste and smell. For a long time even the
strong pipe tobacco (with which McClintock supplied him) possessed
a coconut flavour. Then, mysteriously, he no longer smelled or
tasted it.

On the day he carried the manuscript to Copeley's he brought back a
packet of letters, magazines, and newspapers. McClintock never
threw away any advertising matter; in fact, he openly courted
pamphlets; and they came from automobile dealers and great
mail-order houses, from haberdashers and tailors and manufacturers
of hair-tonics, razors, gloves, shoes, open plumbing. In this way
(he informed Spurlock) he kept posted on what was going on in the
strictly commercial world. "Besides, lad, even an advertisement of
a cough-drop is something to read." So there was always plenty of
mail.

Among the commercial enticements McClintock found a real letter. In
privacy he read and reread it a dozen times, and eventually
destroyed it by fire. It was, in his opinion, the most astonishing
letter he had ever read. He hated to destroy it; but that was the
obligation imposed; and he was an honourable man.

Not since she had discovered it had Ruth touched or opened the
mission Bible; but to-night (the same upon which the wonderful
manuscripts started on their long and circuitous voyage to America)
she was inexplicably drawn to it. In all these weeks she had not
once knelt to pray. Why should she? she asked rebelliously. God had
never answered any of her prayers. But this time she wanted nothing
for herself: she wanted something for Hoddy--success. So, not
exactly hopefully but earnestly, she returned to the feet of God.
She did not open the Bible but laid it on the edge of the bed,
knelt and rested her forehead upon the worn leather cover.

It was not a long prayer. She said it audibly, having learned long
since that an audible prayer was a concentrated one. And yet, at
the end of this prayer a subconscious thought broke through to
consciousness. "And someday let him care for me!"

She sprang up, alarmed. This unexpected interpolation might spoil
the efficacy of all that had gone before. She hadn't meant to ask
anything for herself. Her stifled misery had betrayed her. She had
been fighting down this thought for days: that Hoddy did not care,
that he did not love her, that he had mistaken a vagary of the mind
for a substance, and now regretted what he had done--married a girl
who was not his equal in anything. The agony on the sands now
ceased to puzzle her.

All her tender lures, inherent and acquired, had shattered
themselves futilely against the reserve he had set between them.
Why had he offered her that kiss on board _The Tigress_? Perhaps
that had been his hour of disenchantment. She hadn't measured up;
she had been stupid; she hadn't known how to make love.

Loneliness. Here was an appalling fact: all her previous loneliness
had been trifling beside that which now encompassed her and would
for years to come.

If only sometimes he would grow angry at her, impatient! But his
tender courtesy was unfailing; and under this would be the abiding
bitterness of having mistaken gratitude for love. Very well. She
would meet him upon this ground: he should never be given the
slightest hint that she was unhappy.

She still had her letter of credit. She could run away from him, if
she wished, as she had run away from her father; she could carry
out the original adventure. But the cases were not identical. Her
father--man of rock--had never needed her, whereas Hoddy, even if
he did not love her, would always be needing her.

Love stories!... A sob rushed into her throat, and to smother it
she buried her face in a pillow.

Spurlock, filled with self-mockery, sat in a chair on the west
veranda. The chair had extension arms over which a man might
comfortably dangle his legs. For awhile he watched the revolving
light on Copeley's. Occasionally he relit his pipe. Once he
chuckled aloud. Certain phases of irony always caused him to
chuckle audibly. Every one of those four stories would be accepted.
He knew it absolutely, as if he had the check in his hand. Why?
Because Howard Spurlock the author dared not risk the liberty of
Howard Spurlock the malefactor; because there were still some dregs
in this cup of irony. For what could be more ironical than for
Howard Spurlock to see himself grow famous under the name of Taber?
The ambrosia of which he had so happily dreamt!--and this gall and
wormwood! He stood up and rapped his pipe on the rail.

"All right," he said. "Whatever you say--you, behind those stars
there, if you are a God. We Spurlocks take our medicine, standing.
Pile it on! But if you can hear the voice of the mote, the speck,
don't let her suffer for anything I've done. Be a sport, and pile
it all on me!"

He went to bed.

There is something in prayer; not that there may be any noticeable
result, any definite answer; but no human being can offer an honest
prayer to God without gaining immeasurably in courage, in
fortitude, in resignation, and that alone is worth the effort.

On the morrow Spurlock (who was unaware that he had offered a
prayer) let down the bars to his reserve. He became really
companionable, discussed the new story he had in mind, and asked
some questions about colour. Ruth, having decided a course for
herself--that of renunciation--and having the strength to keep it,
met these advances in precisely the mood they were offered. So
these two young philosophers got along very well that day; and the
succeeding days.

She taught him all the lore she had; about bird-life and tree-life
and the changing mysteries of the sea. She taught him how to sail a
proa, how to hack open a milk-coconut, how to relish bamboo
sprouts. Eventually this comradeship (slightly resented by Rollo)
reached a point where he could call out from the study: "Hey,
Ruth!--come and tell me what you think of this."

Her attitude now entirely sisterly, he ceased to be afraid of her;
there was never anything in her eyes (so far as he could see) but
friendly interest in all he said or did. And yet, often when alone,
he wondered: had McClintock been wrong, or had she ceased to care
in that way? The possibility that she no longer cared should have
filled him with unalloyed happiness, whereas it depressed him, cut
the natural vanity of youth into shreds and tatters. Yesterday this
glorious creature had loved him; to-day she was only friendly. No
more did she offer her forehead for the good-night kiss. And
instead of accepting the situation gratefully, he felt vaguely
hurt!

One evening in September a proa rasped in upon the beach. It
brought no coconut. There stepped forth a tall brown man. He
remained standing by the stem of the proa, his glance roving
investigatingly. He wore a battered sun-helmet, a loin-cloth and a
pair of dilapidated canvas shoes. At length he proceeded toward
McClintock's bungalow, drawn by the lights and the sound of music.

Sure of foot, noiseless, he made the veranda and paused at the side
of one of the screened windows. By and by he ventured to peer into
this window. He saw three people: a young man at the piano, an
elderly man smoking in a corner, and a young woman reclining in a
chair, her eyes closed. The watcher's intake of breath was
sibilant.

It was she! The Dawn Pearl!

He vaulted the veranda rail, careless now whether or not he was
heard, and ran down to the beach. He gave an order, the proa was
floated and the sail run up. In a moment the brisk evening breeze
caught the lank canvas and bellied it taut. The proa bore away to
the northwest out of which it had come.

James Boyle O'Higgins knew little or nothing of the South Seas, but
he knew human beings, all colours. His deduction was correct that
the beauty of Ruth Enschede could not remain hidden long even on a
forgotten isle.



CHAPTER XXIV


Spurlock's novel was a tale of regeneration. For a long time to
come that would naturally be the theme of any story he undertook to
write. After he was gone in the morning, Ruth would steal into the
study and hurriedly read what he had written the previous night.
She never questioned the motives of the characters; she had neither
the ability nor the conceit for that; but she could and often did
correct his lapses in colour. She never touched the manuscript with
pencil, but jotted down her notes on slips of paper and left them
where he might easily find them.

She marvelled at his apparent imperviousness to the heat. He worked
afternoons, when everybody else went to sleep; he worked at night
under a heat-giving light, with insects buzzing and dropping about,
with a blue haze of tobacco smoke that tried to get out and could
not. With his arms bare, the neckband of his shirt tucked in, he
laboured. Frequently he would take up a box of talc and send a
shower down his back, or fill his palms with the powder and rub his
face and arms and hands. He kept at it even on those nights when
the monsoon began to break with heavy storms and he had to weight
down with stones everything on his table. Soot was everywhere, for
the lamp would not stay trimmed in the gale. But he wrote on.

As the novel grew Ruth was astonished to see herself enter and
dominate it: sometimes as she actually was, with all her dreams
reviewed--as if he had caught her talking in her sleep. It
frightened her to behold her heart and mind thus laid bare; but
the chapter following would reassure her. Here would be a woman
perfectly unrecognizable, strong, ruthless but just.

This heroine ruled an island which (in the '80s) was rich with
shell--pearl-shell; and she fought pearl thievers and marauding
beachcombers, fought them with weapons and with woman's guile. No
man knew whence she had come nor why. That there would eventually
be a lover Ruth knew; and she waited his appearance upon the scene,
waited with an impatience which was both personal and literary. If
the creator drew a hero anything like himself, she would accept it
as a sign that he did care a little.

Ruth did not resent the use of her mind and body in this tale of
adventure. She gloried in it: he needed her. When the hero finally
did appear, Ruth became filled with gentle self-mockery. He was no
Hoddy, but a tremendous man, with hairy arms and bearded face and
drink-shattered intellect. Day by day she followed the spiritual
and physical contest between this man and woman. One day a pall of
blackness encompassed the sick mind of the giant; and when he came
to his senses, they properly functioned: and he saw his wife by his
bedside!

An astonishing idea entered Ruth's head one day--when the novel was
complete in the rough--an astonishing idea because it had not
developed long ago. A thing which had mystified her since
childhood, a smouldering wonder why it should be, and until now she
had never felt the urge to investigate. She tucked the mission
Bible under her arm, and crooking a finger at Rollo, went forth to
the west beach where the sou'-west surge piled up muddily, burdened
with broken spars, crates, boxes, and weeds. During the wet monsoon
the west beach was always littered. Where the stuff came from was
always a mystery.

The Enschede Bible--the one out of which she read--had been
strangely mutilated. Sections and pages had been pasted together,
and all through both Testaments a word had been blotted out. The
open books she knew by heart; aye, they had been ground into her,
morning and night. One of her duties, after she had been taught to
read, had been to read aloud after breakfast and before going to
bed. The same old lines and verses, over and over, until there had
come times when shrieking would have relieved her. How she had
hated it!... All these mumblings which were never explained, which
carried no more sense to her brain than they would have carried to
Old Morgan's swearing parrot. Like the parrot, she could memorize
the lines, but she could not understand them. Never had her father
explained. "Read the first chapter of Job"; beyond that, nothing.
Whenever she came upon the obliterated word and paused, her father
would say: "Faith. Go on." So, after a time, encountering the blot,
she herself would supply the word Faith. But was it Faith? That is
what she was this day going to find out.

She closed her eyes more vividly to recall some line which had
carried the blot. And so she came upon the word _Love_. Blotted
out--Love! With infinite care, through nearly a thousand pages,
her father had obliterated the word _Love_. Why? Love was a word of
God's, and yet her father had denied it--denied it to the Book,
denied it to his own flesh and blood. Why? He could preach the Word
and deny Love!--tame the savage heart, succour broken white
men!--pray with his face strained with religious fervour! The idea
made her dizzy because it was so inexplicable. She could accord her
father with one grace: he was not in any manner a hypocrite. Tender
with the sick, firm with the strong, fearless, with a body that had
the resistance of iron, there was nothing of the hypocrite in him.

She recalled him. A gaunt, powerful man: no feature of his face
decided, and yet for all that it had the significance of a
countenance hewn out of rock. Never had he corrected her with hand
or whip, the ring in his voice had always been sufficient to cower
her. But never had the hand touched her with a father's caress;
never had he taken her into his arms; never had he kissed her. She
had never been "My child" or "My dear"; always her name--Ruth.

Love, obliterated, annihilated; out of his heart and out of his
Bible. Why? Here was a curtain indeed. No matter. It was ended. She
herself had cut the slender tie that had bound them. Ah, but she
could remember; and many things there were that she would never
forgive. Sometimes--a lonely forlorn child--she had gone to him and
put her arms around his neck. Stonily he had disengaged himself. "I
forbid you to do that." She had brought home a puppy one day. He
had taken it back. He destroyed her clumsily made dolls whenever he
found them.

Once she had asked him: "Are you my father?"

He had answered: "I am."

She had no reason to doubt him. Her father, her own father! She
remembered now a verse from the Psalms her father had always been
quoting; but now she recited it with perfect understanding.

_How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? How long wilt thou
hide thy face from me?_

She came upon the Song of Songs--which had been pasted down in the
Enschede Bible--the burning litany of love; and from time to time
she intoned some verse of tender lyric beauty. There was one verse
that haunted and mocked her.

_Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick of
love._

Here was Ruth Enschede--sick of love! Love--something the world
would always keep hidden from her, at least human love. All she had
found was the love of this dog. She threw her arms around Rollo's
neck and laid her cheek upon the flea-bitten head.

"Oh, Rollo, there are so many things I don't know! But you love me,
don't you?"

Rollo wagged his stump violently and tried to lick her face. He
understood. When she released him he ran down the beach for a stick
which he fetched and laid at her feet. But she was staring seaward
and did not notice the offering.

       *       *       *       *       *

October. The skies became brilliant; the dry monsoon was setting
in. Then came the great day. It was at lunch when McClintock
announced that in the mail-pouch he had found a letter addressed to
Howard Taber, care of Donald McClintock and so-forth.

Spurlock grew cold. All that confidence, born of irony,
disappeared; and fear laid hold of him. The envelope might contain
only a request as to what he wanted done with the manuscripts. In
mailing the tales he had not enclosed return postage or the
equivalent in money.

"So you're writing under a nom de plume, eh?" said McClintock,
holding out the letter.

"You open it, Ruth. I'm in a funk," Spurlock confessed.

McClintock laughed as he gave the letter to Ruth. She, having all
the confidence in the world, ripped off an end and drew out the
contents--a letter and a check. What the editor had to say none of
the three cared just then. Spurlock snatched the check out of
Ruth's hands and ran to the window.

"A thousand dollars in British pounds!... A thousand dollars for
four short stories!" The tan on Spurlock's face lightened. He was
profoundly stirred. He turned to Ruth and McClintock. "You two ...
both of you! But for you I couldn't have done it. If only you knew
what this means to me!"

"We do, lad," replied McClintock, gravely. The youth of them! And
what was he going to do when they left his island? What would
Donald McClintock be doing with himself, when youth left the
island, never more to return?

Ruth was thrilling with joy. Every drop of blood in her body glowed
and expanded. To go to Hoddy, to smother him with kisses and
embraces in this hour of triumph! To save herself from committing
the act--the thought of which was positive hypnotism--she began the
native dance. Spurlock (himself verging upon the hysterical)
welcomed the diversion. He seized a tray, squatted on the floor,
and imitated the tom-tom. It was a mad half-hour.

"Well, lad, supposing you read what the editor has to say?" was
McClintock's suggestion, when the frolic was over.

"You read it, Ruth. You're luck."

"Aye!" was McClintock's inaudible affirmative. Luck. The boy would
never know just how lucky he was. Ruth read:

    DEAR SIR:

    "We are delighted to accept these four stories,
    particularly 'The Man Who Could Not Go Home.' We shall be
    pleased to see more of your work.

"'The Man Who Could Not Go Home.' Why," said Ruth, "you did not
read that to us."

"Wanted to see if I could turn out one all on my own," replied
Spurlock, looking at McClintock, who nodded slightly. "It was the
story of a man, so to speak, who had left his vitals in his native
land and wandered strange paths emptily. But never mind that. Come
along home, Ruth. I'm burning to get to work."

After all those former bitter failures, this cup was sweet, even if
there was the flavour of irony. At least, he would always be able
to take care of Ruth. The Dawn Pearl; how well they had named her!
The pearl without price--his and not his!

He took her arm and drew it under his; and together they went down
the veranda steps. Ruth's arm trembled and her step faltered, but
he was too far away in thought to be observant. He saw rifts in
clouds--sunshine. The future was not so black. All the money he
earned--serving McClintock and the muse--could be laid away. Then,
in a few years, he and Ruth might fare forth in comfort and
security. After five or six years it would not be difficult to hide
in Italy or in France. No; the future was not so dark; there was a
bit of dawn visible. If this success continued, it would be easy to
assume the name of Taber. Ruth could not very well object, since an
air of distinction would go with Taber.

Suddenly he felt Ruth swing violently away from him, and he wheeled
to learn the cause.

He beheld a tall gaunt man, his brown face corrugated like a
winter's road, grim, stony. His gangling body was clothed in rusty
twill trousers and a long black seersucker coat, buttoned to the
throat, around which ran a collar which would have marked him the
world over as a man of the Word. His hand rested heavily and
cruelly upon Ruth's shoulder.

"So, wanton, I have found you!"

"Wanton! Why, you infernal liar!" cried Spurlock, striking at the
arm. But the free arm of the stranger hit him a flail-like blow on
the chest and sent him sprawling into the yielding sand. Berserker,
Spurlock rose, head down, and charged.

"Hoddy, Hoddy!... No, no! This is my father!" warned Ruth.

Spurlock halted in his tracks. "But what does he mean by calling
you a wanton?--you, my wife?"

Enschede's hand slipped from his daughter's shoulder. The iron
slipped from his face, leaving it blank with astonishment. "Your
wife?"

"His lawful wife," said Ruth, with fine dignity.

For a moment none of them stirred; then slowly Enschede turned
away. To Spurlock's observing eye, Enschede's wrinkles multiplied
and the folds in his clothes. The young man's imagination suddenly
pictured the man as a rock, loosed from its ancient bed, crumbling
as it fell. But why did he turn away?

"Wait!" Ruth called to her father.

The recollection of all her unhappiness, the loveless years, the
unending loneliness, the injustice of it, rolled up to her lips in
verbal lava. It is not well that a daughter should talk to her
father as Ruth talked to hers that day.

The father, granite; the daughter, fire: Spurlock saw the one and
heard the other, his amazement indescribable. Never before had he
seen a man like Enschede nor heard a voice like Ruth's. But as the
mystery which surrounded Ruth fell away that which enveloped her
father thickened.

"I used to cry myself to sleep, Hoddy, I was so forlorn and lonely.
He heard me; but he never came in to ask what was the matter. For
fifteen years!--so long as I can remember! All I wanted was a
little love, a caress now and then. But I waited in vain. So I ran
away, blindly, knowing nothing of the world outside. Youth! You
denied me even that," said Ruth, her glance now flashing to her
father. "Spring!--I never knew any. I dared not sing, I dared not
laugh, except when you went away. What little happiness I had I was
forced to steal. I am glad you found me. I am out of your life
forever, never having been in it. Did you break my mother's heart
as you tried to break mine? I am no longer accountable to you for
anything. Wanton! Had I been one, even God would have forgiven me,
understanding. Some day I may forgive you; but not now. No, no! Not
now!"

Ruth turned abruptly and walked toward the bungalow, mounted the
veranda steps, and vanished within. Without a word, without a sign,
Enschede started toward the beach, where his proa waited.

For a time Spurlock did not move. This incredible scene robbed him
of the sense of locomotion. But his glance roved, to the door
through which Ruth had gone, to Enschede's drooping back.
Unexpectedly he found himself speeding toward the father.

"Enschede!" he called.

Enschede halted. "Well?" he said, as Spurlock reached his side.

"Are you a human being, to leave her thus?"

"It is better so. You heard her. What she said is true."

"But why? In the name of God, why? Your flesh and blood! Have you
never loved anything?"

"Are you indeed my daughter's lawful husband?" Enschede countered.

"I am. You will find the proof in McClintock's safe. You called her
a wanton!"

"Because I had every reason to believe she was one. There was every
indication that she fled the island in company with a dissolute
rogue." Still the voice was without emotion; calm, colourless.

Fired with wrath, Spurlock recounted the Canton episode. "She
travelled alone; and she is the purest woman God ever permitted to
inhabit the earth. What!--you know so little of that child? She ran
away from _you_. Somebody tricked you back yonder--baited you for
spite. She ran away from you; and now I can easily understand why.
What sort of a human being are you, anyhow?"

Enschede gazed seaward. When he faced Spurlock, the granite was
cracked and rived; never had Spurlock seen such dumb agony in human
eyes. "What shall I say? Shall I tell you, or shall I leave you in
the dark--as I must always leave her? What shall I say except that
I am accursed of men? Yes; I have loved something--her mother. Not
wisely but too well. I loved her beyond anything in heaven or on
earth--to idolatry. God is a jealous God, and He turned upon me
relentlessly. I had consecrated my life to His Work; and I took the
primrose path."

"But a man may love his wife!" cried Spurlock, utterly bewildered.

"Not as I loved mine. So, one day, because God was wroth, her
mother ran away with a blackguard, and died in the gutter,
miserably. Perhaps I've been mad all these years; I don't know.
Perhaps I am still mad. But I vowed that Ruth should never suffer
the way I did--and do. For I still love her mother. So I undertook
to protect her by keeping love out of her life, by crushing it
whenever it appeared, obliterating it. I made it a point to bring
beachcombers to the house to fill her with horror of mankind. I
never let her read stories, or have pets, dolls. Anything that
might stir the sense of love And God has mocked me through it all."

"Man, in God's name, come with me and tell her this!" urged
Spurlock.

"It is too late. Besides, I would tear out my tongue rather than
let it speak her mother's infamy. To tell Ruth anything, it would
be necessary to tell her everything; and I cannot and you must not.
She was always asking questions about her mother and supplying the
answers. So she built a shrine. Always her prayers ended--'And may
my beautiful mother guide me!' No. It is better as it is. She is no
longer mine; she is yours."

"What a mistake!"

"Yes. But you--you have a good face. Be kind to her. Whenever you
grow impatient with her, remember the folly of her father. I can
now give myself to God utterly; no human emotion will ever be
shuttling in between."

"And all the time you loved her?"--appalled.

"Perhaps."

Enschede stepped into the proa, and the natives shoved off.
Spurlock remained where he was until the sail became an
infinitesimal speck in the distance. His throat filled; he wanted
to weep. For yonder went the loneliest man in all God's unhappy
world.



CHAPTER XXV


Spurlock pushed back his helmet and sat down in the white sand,
buckling his knees and folding his arms around them--pondering. Was
he really awake? The arrival and departure of this strange father
lacked the essential human touch to make it real. Without a
struggle he could give up his flesh and blood like that! "I can now
give myself to God utterly; no human emotion will ever be shuttling
in between." The mortal agony behind those eyes! And all the while
he had probably loved his child. To take Spring and Love out of her
life, as if there were no human instincts to tell Ruth what was
being denied her! And what must have been the man's thought as he
came upon Ruth wearing a gown of her mother's?--a fair picture of
the mother in the primrose days? Not a flicker of an eyelash; steel
and granite outwardly.

The conceit of Howard Spurlock in imagining he knew what mental
suffering was! But Enschede was right: Ruth must never know. To
find the true father at the expense of the beautiful fairy tale
Ruth had woven around the woman in the locket was an intolerable
thought. But the father, to go his way forever alone! The iron in
the man!--the iron in this child of his!

Wanting a little love, a caress now and then. Spurlock bent his
head to his knees. He took into his soul some of the father's
misery, some of the daughter's, to mingle with his own. Enschede,
to have starved his heart as well as Ruth's because, having laid a
curse, he knew not how to turn aside from it! How easily he might
have forgotten the unworthy mother in the love of the child! And
this day to hear her voice lifted in a quality of anathema. Poor
Ruth: for a father, a madman; for a husband--a thief!

Spurlock rocked his body slightly. He knew that at this moment Ruth
lay upon her bed in torment, for she was by nature tender; and the
reaction of her scathing words, no matter how justifiable, would be
putting scars on her soul. And he, her lawful husband, dared not go
to her and console her! Accursed--all of them--Enschede, Ruth, and
himself.

"What's the matter, lad, after all the wonderful fireworks at
lunch?"

Spurlock beheld McClintock standing beside him. He waved a hand
toward the sea.

"A sail?" said McClintock. "What about it?"

"Enschede."

"Enschede?--her father? What's happened?" McClintock sat down. "Do
you mean to tell me he's come and gone in an hour? What the devil
kind of a father is he?"

Spurlock shook his head.

"What's become of Ruth?"

"Gone to her room."

"Come, lad; let's have it," said McClintock. "Anything that
concerns Ruth is of interest to me. What happened between Ruth and
her father that made him hurry off without passing ordinary
courtesies with me?"

"I suppose I ought to tell you," said Spurlock; "but it is
understood that Ruth shall never know the truth."

"Not if it will hurt her."

"Hurt her? It would tear her to pieces; God knows she has had
enough. Her mother.... Do you recall the night she showed you the
face in the locket? Do you remember how she said--'If only my
mother had lived'? Did you ever see anything more tender or
beautiful?"

"I remember. Go on and tell me."

When Spurlock had finished the tale, touched here and there by his
own imagination, McClintock made a negative sign.

"So that was it? And what the devil are you doing here, moping
alone on the beach? Why aren't you with her in this hour of
bitterness?"

"What can I do?"

"You can go to her and take her in your arms."

"I might have been able to do that if you hadn't told me ... she
cared."

"Man, she's your wife!"

"And I am a thief."

"You're a damn fool, too!" exploded the trader.

"I am as God made me."

"No. God gives us an equal chance; but we make ourselves. You are
captain of your soul; don't forget your Henley. But I see now. That
poor child, trying to escape, and not knowing how. Her father for
fifteen years, and you now for the rest of her life! Tell her
you're a thief. Get it off your soul."

"Add that to what she is now suffering? It's too late. She would
not forgive me."

"And why should you care whether she forgave you or not?"

Spurlock jumped to his feet, the look of the damned upon his face.
"Why? Because I love her! Because I loved her at the start, but was
too big a fool to know it!"

His own astonishment was quite equal to McClintock's. The latter
began to heave himself up from the sand.

"Did I hear you ..." began McClintock.

"Yes!" interrupted Spurlock, savagely. "You heard me say it! It was
inevitable. I might have known it. Another labyrinth in hell!"

A smile broke over the trader's face. It began in the eyes and
spread to the lips: warm, embracing, even fatherly.

"Man, man! You're coming to life. There's something human about you
now. Go to her and tell her. Put your arms around her and tell her
you love her. Dear God, what a beautiful moment!"

The fire went out of Spurlock's eyes and the shadow of hopeless
weariness fell upon him. "I can't make you understand; I can't make
you see things as I see them. As matters now stand, I'm only a
thief, not a blackguard. What!--add another drop to her cup? Who
knows? Any day they may find me. So long as matters remain as they
are, and they found me, there would be no shame for Ruth. Can't I
make you see?"

"But I'm telling you Ruth loves you. And her kind of love forgives
everything and anything but infidelity."

"You did not hear her when she spoke to her father; I did."

"But she would understand you; whereas she will never understand
her father. Spurlock: 'tis Roundhead, sure enough. Go to her, I
say, and take her in your arms, you poor benighted Ironsides! I
can't make _you_ see. Man, if you tell her you love her, and later
they took you away to prison, who would sit at the prison gate
until your term was up? Ruth. Why am I here--thirty years of
loneliness? Because I know women, the good and the bad; and because
I could not have the good, I would not take the bad. The woman I
wanted was another man's wife. So here I am, king of all I survey,
with a predilection for poker, a scorched liver, and a piano-player.
But you! Ruth is your lawful wife. Not to go to her is wickeder than
if I had run away with my friend's wife. You're a queer lad. With
your pencil you see into the hearts of all; and without your pencil
you are dumb and blind. Ruth is not another man's wife; she is all
your own, for better or for worse. Have you thought of the monstrous
lie you are adding to your theft?"

"Lie?" said Spurlock, astounded.

"Aye--to pretend to her that you don't care. That's a most damnable
lie; and when she finds out, 'tis then she will not forgive. She'll
have this hour always with her; and you failed her. Go to her."

"I can't."

"Afraid?"

"Yes."

This simple admission disarmed McClintock. "Well, well; I have
given out of my wisdom. I'd like to shake you until your bones
rattled; but the bones of a Roundhead wouldn't rattle to any
purpose. Lad, I admire you even in your folly. Mountains out of
molehills and armies out of windmills; and you'll tire yourself in
one direction and shatter yourself in the other. There is strength
in you--misguided. You will torture yourself and torture her all
through life; but in the end she will pour the wine of her faith
into a sound chalice. I would that you were my own."

"I, a thief?"

"Aye; thief, Roundhead and all. If a certain kink in your sense of
honour will not permit you to go to her as a lover, go to her as a
comrade. Talk to her of the new story; divert her; for this day her
heart has been twisted sorely."

McClintock without further speech strode toward his bungalow; and
half an hour later Spurlock, passing, heard the piano-tuning key at
work.

Spurlock plodded through the heavy sand, leaden in the heart and
mind as well as in the feet. But recently he had asked God to pile
it all on him; and God had added this, with a fresh portion for
Ruth. One thing--he could be thankful for that--the peak of his
misfortunes had been reached; the world might come to an end now
and not matter in the least.

Love ... to take her in his arms and to comfort her: and then to
add to her cup of bitterness the knowledge that her husband was a
thief! For himself he did not care; God could continue to grind and
pulverize him; but to add another grain to the evil he had already
wrought upon Ruth was unthinkable. The future? He dared not
speculate upon that.

He paused at the bamboo curtain of her room, which was in
semi-darkness. He heard Rollo's stump beat a gentle tattoo on the
floor.

"Ruth?"

Silence for a moment. "Yes. What is it?"

"Is there anything I can do?" The idiocy of the question filled him
with the craving of laughter. Was there anything he could do!

"No, Hoddy; nothing."

"Would you like to have me come in and talk?" How tender that
sounded!--talk!

"If you want to."

Bamboo and bead tinkled and slithered behind him. The dusky
obscurity of the room was twice welcome. He did not want Ruth to
see his own stricken countenance; nor did he care to see hers,
ravaged by tears. He knew she had been weeping. He drew a chair to
the side of the bed and sat down, terrified by the utter fallowness
of his mind. Filled as he was with conflicting emotions, any
stretch of silence would be dangerous. The fascination of the idea
of throwing himself upon his knees and crying out all that was in
his heart! As his eyes began to focus objects, he saw one of her
arms extended upon the counterpane, in his direction, the hand
clenched tightly.

"I am very wicked," she said. "After all, he is my father, Hoddy;
and I cursed him. But all those empty years!... My heart was hot.
I'm sorry. I do forgive him; but he will never know now."

"Write him," urged Spurlock, finding speech.

"He would return my letters unopened or destroy them."

That was true, thought Spurlock. No matter what happened, whether
the road smoothed out or became still rougher, he would always be
carrying this secret with him; and each time he recalled it, the
rack.

"Would you rather be alone?"

"No. It's kind of comforting to have you there. You understand. I
sha'n't cry any more. Tell me a story--with apple-blossoms in
it--about people who are happy."

Miserably his thoughts shuttled to and fro in search of what he
knew she wanted--a love story. Presently he began to weave a tale,
sorry enough, with all the ancient claptraps and rusted platitudes.
How long he sat there, reeling off this drivel, he never knew. When
he reached the happy ending, he waited. But there was no sign from
her. By and by he gathered enough courage to lean toward her. She
had fallen asleep. The hand that had been clenched lay open,
relaxed; and upon the palm he saw her mother's locket.



CHAPTER XXVI


Spurlock went out on his toes, careful lest the bamboo curtain
rattle behind him. He went into the study and sat down at his
table, but not to write. He drew out the check and the editorial
letter. He had sold half a dozen short tales to third-rate
magazines; but this letter had been issued from a distinguished
editorial room, of international reputation. If he could keep it
up--style and calibre of imagination--within a year the name of
Taber would become widely known. Everything in the world to live
for!--fame that he could not reap, love that he must not take! What
was all this pother about hell as a future state?

By and by things began to stir on the table: little invisible
things. The life with which he had endued these sheets of paper
began to beckon imperiously. So he sharpened a score of pencils,
and after fiddling about and rewriting the last page he had written
the previous night, he plunged into work. It was hot and dry. There
were mysterious rustlings that made him glance hopefully toward the
sea. He was always deceived by these rustlings which promised wind
and seldom fulfilled that promise.

"Time to dress for dinner," said Ruth from behind the curtain. "I
don't see how you do it, Hoddy. It's so stuffy--and all that
tobacco smoke!"

He inspected his watch. Half after six. He was astonished. For four
hours he had shifted his own troubles to the shoulders of these
imaginative characters.

"He called me a wanton, Hoddy. That is what I don't understand."

"There isn't an angel in heaven, Ruth, purer or sweeter than you
are. No doubt--because he did not understand you--he thought you
had run away with someone. The trader you spoke about: he disliked
your father, didn't he? Well, he probably played your father a
horrible practical joke."

"Perhaps that was it. I always wondered why he bought my mother's
pearls so readily. I am dreadfully sad."

"I'll tell you what. I'll speak to McClintock to-night and see if
he won't take us for a junket on _The Tigress_. Eh? Banging against
the old rollers--that'll put some life into us both. Run along
while I rig up and get the part in my hair straight."

"If he had only been my father!--McClintock!"

"God didn't standardize human beings, Ruth; no grain of wheat is
like another. See the new litter of Mrs. Pig? By George, every one
of them looks like the other; and yet each one attacks the source
of supply with a squeal and an oof that's entirely different from
his brothers' and sisters'. Put on that new dress--the one that's
all white. We'll celebrate that check, and let the rest of the
world go hang."

"You are very good to me, Hoddy."

Something reached down into his heart and twisted it. But he held
the smile until she turned away from the curtain. He dressed
mechanically; so many moves this way, so many moves that. The
evening breeze came; the bamboo shades on the veranda clicked and
rasped; the loose edges of the manuscript curled. To prevent the
leaves from blowing about, should a blow develop, he distributed
paper weights. Still unconscious of anything he did physically.

He tried not to think--of Ruth with her mother's locket, of her
misguided father, taking his lonely way to sea. He drew
compellingly upon his new characters to keep him out of this
melancholy channel; but they ebbed and ebbed; he could not hold
them. Enschede: no human emotion should ever again shuttle between
him and God. As if God would not continue to mock him so long as
his brain held a human thought! God had given him a pearl without
price, and he had misunderstood until this day.

McClintock was in a gay mood at dinner that night; but he did not
see fit to give these children the true reason. For a long time
there had been a standing offer from the company at Copeley's to
take over the McClintock plantation; and to-day he had decided to
sell. Why? Because he knew that when these two young people left,
the island would become intolerable. For nearly thirty years he had
lived here in contented loneliness; then youth had to come and fill
him with discontent.

He would give _The Tigress_ a triple coat of paint, and take these
two on a long cruise, wherever they wanted to go--Roundhead and
Seraph, the blunderbus and the flaming angel. And there was another
matter. To have sprung this upon them to-night would have been worth
a thousand pounds. But his lips were honour-locked.

There was a pint of champagne and a quart of mineral water (both
taboo) at his elbow. In a tall glass the rind of a Syrian orange
was arranged in spiral form. The wine bubbled and seethed; and the
exquisite bouquet of oranges permeated the room.

"I sha'n't offer any of these to you two," he said; "but I know you
won't mind me having an imitation king's peg. The occasion is worth
a dash of the grape, lad. You're on the way to big things. A
thousand dollars is a lot of money for an author to earn."

Spurlock laughed. "Drink your peg; don't bother about me. I
wouldn't touch the stuff for all the pearls in India. A cup of
lies. I know all about it."

Ruth's eyes began to glow. She had often wondered if Hoddy would
ever go back to it. She knew now that he never would.

"Sometimes a cup of lies is a cheering thing," replied the trader.
"In wine there is truth. What about that?"

"It means that drink cheats a man into telling things he ought not
to. And there's your liver."

"Ay, and there's my liver. It'll be turning over to-morrow. But
never mind that," said McClintock grinning as he drew the dish of
bread-fruit toward him. "To-morrow I shall have a visitor. I do not
say guest because that suggests friendship; and I am no friend of
this Wastrel. I've told you about him; and you wrote a shrewd yarn
on the subject."

"The pianist?"

"Yes. He'll be here two or three days. So Mrs. Spurlock had better
stick to the bungalow."

"Ah," said Spurlock; "that kind of a man."

"Many kinds; a thorough outlaw. We've never caught him cheating at
cards; too clever; but we know he cheats. But he's witty and
amusing, and when reasonably drunk he can play the piano like a
Paderewski. He's an interpretative genius, if there ever was one.
Nobody knows what his real name is, but he's a Hollander. Kicked
out of there for something shady. A remittance man. A check arrives
in Batavia every three months. He has a grand time. Then he goes
stony, and beats his way around the islands for another three
months. Retribution has a queer way of acting sometimes. The
Wastrel--as we call him--cannot play when he's sober; hands too
shaky. He can't play cards, either, when he's sober. Alcohol--would
you believe it?--steadies his nerves and keens his brain: which is
against the laws of gravitation, you might say. He has often told
me that if he could play sober, he would go to America and reap a
fortune."

"You never told me what he is like," said Spurlock.

"I thought it best that you should imagine him. You were wide the
mark, physically; otherwise you had him pat. He is big and
powerful; one of those drinkers who show it but little outwardly.
Whisky kills him suddenly; it does not sap him gradually. In his
youth he must have been a remarkably handsome man, for he is still
handsome. I don't believe he is much past forty. A bad one in a
rough-and-tumble; all the water-front tricks. His hair is oddly
streaked with gray--I might say a dishonourable gray. Perhaps in
the beginning the women made fools of themselves over him."

"That's reasonable. I don't know how to explain it," said Spurlock,
"but music hits women queerly. I've often seen them storming the
Carnegie Hall stage."

"Aye, music hits them. I'm thinking that the Wastrel was one day a
celebrated professional; and the women were partly the cause of his
fall. Women! He is always chanting the praise of some discovery;
sometimes it will be a native, often a white woman out of the
stews. So it will be wise for Mrs. Spurlock to keep to the bungalow
until the rogue goes back to Copeley's. Queer world. For every
Eden, there will be a serpent; for every sheepfold, there will be a
wolf."

"What's the matter, Ruth?" asked Spurlock, anxiously.

"It has been ... rather a hard day, Hoddy," Ruth answered. She was
wan and white.

So, after the dinner was over, Spurlock took her home; and worked
far into the night.

       *       *       *       *       *

The general office was an extension of the west wing of the
McClintock bungalow. From one window the beach was always visible;
from another, the stores. Spurlock was invariably at the high desk
in the early morning, poring over ledgers, and giving the beach and
the stores an occasional glance. Whenever McClintock had guests, he
loafed with them on the west veranda in the morning.

This morning he heard voices--McClintock's and the Wastrel's.

"Sorry," said McClintock, "but I must ask you to check out this
afternoon before five. I'm having some unexpected guests."

"Ah! Sometimes I wonder I don't run amok and kill someone," said
the Wastrel, in broken English. "I give you all of my genius, and
you say--'Get out!' I am some kind of a dog."

"That is your fault, none of mine. Without whisky," went on
McClintock, "your irritability is beyond tolerance. You have said a
thousand times that there was no shame in you. Nobody can trust
you. Nobody can anticipate your next move. We tolerate you for your
genius, that's a fact. But underneath this tolerance there is
always the vague hope that your manhood will someday reassert
itself."

The Wastrel laughed. "Did you ever hear me whine?"

"No," admitted McClintock

"You've no objection to my dropping in again later, after your
guests go?"

"No. When I'm alone I don't mind."

"Very well. You won't mind if I empty this gin?"

"No. Befuddle yourself, if you want to."

Silence.

Spurlock mused over the previous night. After he had eaten dinner
with Ruth, he had gone to McClintock's; and he had heard music such
as he had heard only in the great concert halls. The picturesque
scoundrel had the true gift; and Spurlock was filled with pity at
the thought of such genius gone to pot. To use it as a passport to
card-tables and gin-bottles! McClintock wasn't having any guests;
at any rate, he had not mentioned the fact.

Spurlock had sensed what had gone completely over McClintock's
head--that this was the playing of a soul in damnation. His own
peculiar genius--a miracle key to the hidden things in men's
souls--had given him this immediate and astonishing illumination. As
the Wastrel played, Spurlock knew that the man saw the inevitable
end--death by drink; saw the glory of the things he had thrown away,
the past, once so full of promise. And, decently as he could,
McClintock was giving the man the boot.

There was, it might be said, a double illumination. But for Ruth,
he, Howard Spurlock, might have ended upon the beach, inescapably
damned. The Dawn Pearl. After all, the Wastrel was in luck: he was
alone.

These thoughts, however, came to a broken end. From the window he
saw _The Tigress_ faring toward Copeley's! Then somebody was
coming? Some political high muckamuck, probably. Still, he was
puzzled because McClintock had not spoken.

Presently McClintock came in. "General inspection after lunch;
drying bins, stores and the young palms south-east. It will be hot
work, but it must be done at once."

"All right, Mr. McClintock." Spurlock lowered his voice. "You are
giving that chap the boot rather suddenly?"

"Had to."

"Somebody coming?"

"Yes. Top-side insurance people. You know all this stuff is
insured. They'll inspect the schooner on the way back," McClintock
lied, cheerfully.

"The Wastrel seemed to take it all right."

"Oh, it's a part of the game," said McClintock. "He knows he had to
take it. There are some islands upon which he is not permitted to
land any more."

At luncheon, preoccupied in thought, Spurlock did not notice the
pallor on Ruth's cheeks or the hunted look in her eyes. She hung
about his chair, followed him to the door, touched his sleeve
timidly, all the while striving to pronounce the words which
refused to rise to her tongue.

He patted the hand on his sleeve. "Could you get any of the music
last night?"

"Yes."

"Wonderful! It's an infernal shame."

"Couldn't ... couldn't I go with you this afternoon?"

"Too hot."

"But I'm used to that, Hoddy," she said, eagerly.

"I'd rather you went over the last four chapters, which I haven't
polished yet. You know what's what. Slash and cut as much as you
please. I'll knock off at tea. By-by."

The desperate eagerness to go with him--and she dared not voice it!
She watched him until McClintock joined him and the two made off
toward the south. She turned back into the hall. Rollo began to
cavort.

"No, Rollo; not this afternoon."

"But I've got to go!" insisted Rollo, in perfectly understandable
dog-talk.

"Be still!"

"Oh, come along! I've just got to have my muck bath. I'm burning
up."

"Rollo!"

There were no locks or panelled doors in the bungalow; and Rollo
was aware of it. He dashed against the screen door before she could
catch him and made the veranda. Once more he begged; but as Ruth
only repeated her sharp command, he spun about and raced toward the
jungle. Immediately he was gone, she regretted that she had not
followed.

Hidden menace; a prescience of something dreadful about to happen.
Ruth shivered; she was cold. Alone; not even the dog to warn her,
and Hoddy deep in the island somewhere. Help--should she need
it--from the natives was out of the question. She had not made
friends with any; so they still eyed her askance.

Yes; she had heard the music the night before. She had resisted as
long as she could; then she had stolen over. She had to make sure,
for the peace of her mind, that this was really the man. One glance
through the window at that picturesque head had been sufficient. A
momentary petrifaction, and terror had lent wings to her feet.

He had found her by the same agency her father had: native talk,
which flew from isle to isle as fast as proas could carry it. She
was a lone white woman, therefore marked.

What was it in her heart or mind or soul that went out to this man?
Music--was that it? Was he powerless to stir her without the gift?
But hadn't he fascinated her by his talk, gentle and winning? Ah,
but that had been after he had played for her.

She had gone into Morgan's one afternoon for a bag of salt. One
hour later she had gone back to the mission--without the salt. For
the first time in her life she had heard music; the door to
enchanted sounds had been flung wide. For hours after she had not
been sensible to life, only to exquisite echoes.

Of course she had often heard sailors hammering out their ditties.
Sometimes ships would stop three or four days for water and
repairs; and the men would carouse in the back room at Morgan's.

Day after day--five, to be exact--she had returned to Morgan's; and
each time the man would understand what had drawn her, and with a
kindly smile would sit down at the piano and play. Sometimes the
music would be tender and dreamy, like a native mother's crooning
to her young; sometimes it would be so gay that the flesh tingled
and the feet were urged to dance; again, it would be like the
storms crashing, thunderous.

On the fifth day he had ventured speech with her. He told her
something about music, the great world outside. Then he had gone
away. But two weeks later he returned. Again he played for her; and
again the eruption of the strange senses that lay hidden in her
soul. He talked with his manner gentle and kindly. Shy, grateful in
her loneliness for this unexpected attention, she had listened. She
had even confided to him how lonely it was in the island. He had
promised her some books, for she had voiced her hunger for stories.
On his third visit to the island she had surprised him, that is,
she had glanced up suddenly and caught the look of the beast in his
eyes.

And it had not shocked her! It was this appalling absence of
indignation that had put terror into her heart. The same look she
had often seen in the eyes of the drunken beachcombers her father
had brought home, and it had not filled her with horror. And now
she comprehended that the man (she had never known him by any name)
knew she had surprised the look and had not resented it.

Still, thereafter she had avoided Morgan's; partly out of fear and
partly because of her father's mandate. Yet the thing hidden within
her called and called.

Traps, set with peculiar cunning; she had encountered them
everywhere. By following her he had discovered her secret nook in
the rocks. Here she would find candy awaiting her, bits of ribbon,
books. She wondered even at this late day how she had been able to
hold her maddening curiosity in check. Books! She knew now what had
saved her--her mother's hand, reaching down from heaven, had set
the giver's flaming eyes upon the covers of these books. One day
she had thrown all the gifts into the lagoon, and visited the
secret nook no more.

And here he was, but a hundred yards away, this wastrel who trailed
his genius through the mud. Hoddy! All her fears fell away. Between
herself and yonder evil mind she had the strongest buckler God
could give--love. Hoddy. No other man should touch her; she was
Hoddy's, body and soul, in this life and after.

She turned into the study, sat down at the table and fingered the
pencils, curiously stirred. Lead, worth nothing at all until Hoddy
picked them up; then they became full of magic. She began to read,
and presently she entered another world, and remained in it for two
hours. She read on and on, now thrilled by the swiftly moving
drama, now enraptured by the tender passages of love. Love.... He
could imagine it even if he could not feel it. That was the true
miracle of the gift; without actual experience, to imagine love and
hate and greed and how they would react upon each other; and then,
when these passions had served their temporary purpose, to cast
them aside for new imaginings.

She heard the bamboo curtain rattle slightly. She looked up
quickly. The Wastrel, his eyes full of humorous evil, stood inside
the room.



CHAPTER XXVII


His idea, cleverly planned, was to shatter her resistance, to
confound her suddenly by striking her mind with words which would
rob her coherent thought. Everything in his favour--the luck of the
gods! The only white men were miles down the coast. She might
scream until her voice failed; the natives would not come to her
aid; they never meddled with the affairs of the whites.

"It is droll," he said. "Your father--poor imbecile!--believes we
ran away together. I arranged that he should. So that way is
closed. You never can go back."

There was a roaring in her ears like that of angry waters.
Wanton!... This, then, was what her father had meant. And he had
gone away without knowing the truth!

"My proa boys are ready; the wind is brisk; and in an hour we shall
be beyond all pursuit. Will you come sensibly, or shall I carry
you? You are _mine_!"

Ruth's peculiar education had not vitiated the primitive senses;
they were always on guard; and in a moment such as this they rushed
instantly to the surface. Danger, the most terrible she had ever
faced, was substantially in this room. She must kill this man, or
kill herself. She knew it. No tricks would serve. There would be no
mercy in this man. Any natural fineness would be numbed by drink.
To-morrow he might be sorry; but to-day, this hour!

She rose, not quickly, but with a dignity which only accentuated
her beauty.

"And you ran away with a weakling! You denied me for a puppet!"

"My lawful husband."

"Ah, yes, yes; lawful husbands in these parts are those who can
take and hold.... As I shall take and hold." The Wastrel advanced.

"If you touch me I will kill you," said Ruth, grasping the scissors
which lay beside the pencils--Hoddy's!

The Wastrel laughed, still advancing. "Fire! That was what drew me
to you in the beginning. Well, kill me. Either we go forth
together, or they shall bury me."

"Beast!"

For a little while they manoeuvred around the table. Suddenly the
Wastrel took hold of the edge and flung the table aside. Even in
this dread moment Ruth was conscious of a pathetic interest in the
scattering pencils.

He reached for her, and she struck savagely. But with the skill of
a fencer he met the blow and broke it, seizing the wrist.

"It looks as though, we should go together," he said, pulling her
toward him.

Ruth was strong in body and soul. She fought him with tooth and
nail. Three times she escaped. Chairs were overturned. Once she
reached the bamboo curtain, clutched at it and tore it down as his
arms went around her waist. The third time she escaped she reached
the inconsequent barricade of the overturned table.

"If there is any honour in you, stop and think. I love my husband.
I love him!" She was weak and dizzy: from horror as much as from
physical exertion. She knew that the next time he caught her she
would not be able to free herself. "What good would it do you to
destroy me? For I have courage to kill myself."

The Wastrel laughed. He had heard this talk before.

The race began once more; but this time Ruth knew that there would
be no escape. If only she had thought to plunge the scissors into
her own heart! Hoddy ... to return and find her either gone or
dead! But even as the Wastrel's arms gathered her, there came the
sound of hurrying steps on the veranda.

"Ruth?"

"Hoddy!" she cried.

Spurlock stepped into the room. One of those hanging moments
ensued--hypnotic.

Spurlock had seen Rollo heading for the jungle, and for some reason
he could not explain the incident had bothered him. Fretting and
fidgeting, he had, after an hour or so, turned to McClintock.

"I'm going back for Ruth."

"Nonsense!"

"Something's wrong."

"Wrong? What the devil could be wrong?" McClintock had demanded,
irascibly. He had particular reasons for wanting to keep Spurlock
away from the jetty.

"I haven't any answer for that; but I'm going back after her. She
wanted to come, and I wouldn't let her."

"Run along, then."

       *       *       *       *       *

"To me, you dirty blackguard!" cried Spurlock, flinging aside his
helmet. That he was hot and breathless was of no matter; in that
moment he would have faced a dozen Samsons.

"She was mine before you ever saw her." The Wastrel tried to reach
Ruth's lips.

"You lie!"

Head down, fists doubled, Spurlock rushed: only to be met with a
kick which was intended for the groin but which struck the thigh
instead. Even then it sent Spurlock spinning backward, to crash
against the wall. He felt no pain from this cowardly kick. That
would come later. Again he rushed. He dodged the boot this time,
and smashed his left upon the Wastrel's lips, leaving them bloody
pulp.

The Wastrel did not relish this. He flung Ruth aside, careless
whether she fell or not. There was only one idea in his head now--to
batter and bruise and crush this weakling, then cast him at the feet
of his love-lorn wife. He brought into service all his Oriental
bar-room tricks. Time after time he sent Spurlock into this corner
or that; but always the boy regained his feet before the murderous
boot could reach the mark. From all angles he was at a disadvantage--in
weight, skill, endurance. But Ruth was his woman, and he had sworn to
God to defend her.

"One of us has got to die," he panted. "You've got to kill me to
get out of here alive."

The Wastrel rushed. Spurlock dove headlong at the other's legs,
toppling the man. In this moment he could have stamped upon the
Wastrel's face, and ended the affair; but all that was clean in
him, chivalrous, revolted at the thought. Not even for Ruth could
he do such a beastly thing. So, bloody but unbeaten, weak and spent
but undaunted, he waited for the Wastrel to spring up.

The unequal battle went on. It came to Spurlock suddenly that if
something did not react in his favour inside of five minutes, he
was done. In a side-glance--for the floor was variously encumbered
with overturned objects--he saw one of his paper weights, a
coloured glass ball such as McClintock used in trade. As the
Wastrel rushed, Spurlock sidestepped, swept the ball into his hand,
set himself and threw it. If the Wastrel had not turned the instant
he did, the ball would have missed him; as it was he turned
directly into its path. It struck his forehead, splitting it, and
brought him to his knees.

Luck. Spurlock understood that his vantage would be temporary; the
Wastrel had been knocked down, not out. Still, the respite was
sufficient for Spurlock to look about for some weapon. Hanging on
the wall was a temple censer, bronze, moulded in the shape of a
lotus blossom with stem and leaves--deadly as a club. He tore it
down just as the Wastrel rose, wavering slightly. Spurlock
advanced, the censer swung high.

The Wastrel wiped the blood from his forehead. The blow had brought
him back to the realm of sober thought. He glanced at Ruth (who had
stood with her back to the wall, pinned there throughout the
contest by terror and the knowledge of her own helplessness), then
at the bronze menace, and calculated correctly that this particular
adventure was finished.

His hesitation was visible, and Spurlock took advantage of this to
run to Ruth. He put his free arm around her and held the censer
ready; and as Ruth snuggled her cheek against his sleeve, they
were, so far as intent, in each other's arms. Without a word or a
gesture, the Wastrel turned and staggered forth, out of the orbit
of these two, having been thrust into it for a single purpose
already described.

For a while they stood there, silent, motionless, staring at the
doorway where still a few strings of the bamboo curtain swayed and
twisted, agitated by the Wastrel's passage.

"I was going to die, Hoddy!" she whispered. "You do love me?"

"God knows how much!" Suddenly he laid his head on her shoulder.
"But I'm a blackguard, too, Ruth. I had no right to marry you. I
have no right to love you."

"Why not?"

"I am a thief, a hunted man."

"So that is what separated us! Oh, Hoddy, you have wasted so many
wonderful days! Why didn't you tell me?"

"I couldn't!" He made as though to draw away, but her arms became
hoops of steel.

"Because you did not wish to hurt me?"

"Yes. If I let you believe I did not love you, and they found me,
your shame would be negligible."

"And loving me, you fought me, avoided all my traps! I'm glad I've
been so unhappy. Remember, in your story--look at it, scattered
everywhere!--that line? _We arrive at true happiness only through
labyrinths of misery._"

"I am a thief, nevertheless."

"Oh, that!"

He raised his head, staring at her in blank astonishment. "You
mean, it doesn't matter?"

"Poor Hoddy! When you were ill in Canton, out of your head, you
babbled words. Only a few, but enough for me to understand that
some act had driven you to this part of the world, where the hunted
hide."

"And you married me, knowing?"

"I married the man who bought a sing-song girl to give her her
freedom."

"But I was intoxicated!"

"So was the man you just fought in this room. There is no hidden
beast in you, Hoddy. I could not love you else."

"They may find me."

"Well, if they send you to prison, I'll be outside when they let
you go."

He took her face between his hands and kissed her on the lips. "I'm
not worth it. You are all that I am or hope to be--the celestial
atom God put into me at the beginning. Now He has taken that out
and given it form and beauty--you!"

"Wonderful hand!" Ruth seized his right hand and kissed it. "All
the wonderful things it is going to do! If I could only know for
certain that my mother knew how happy I'm going to be!"

"You love the memory of your mother?"

"It is a part of my blood ... my beautiful mother!"

He saw Enschede, putting out to sea, alone, memories and regrets
crowding upon his wake. Her father was right: Ruth must never know.
The mother was far more real to her than the father; the ghostly
far more substantial than the living form. So long as he lived,
Spurlock knew that in fancy he would be reconstructing that scene
between himself and Ruth's father.

Their heads touched again, their arms tightened. Gazing into each
other's eyes with new-found rapture, neither observed the sudden
appearance in the doorway of an elderly woman in travel-stained
linen.

There was granite in her face and agate in her eyes. The lips were
straight and pale, the chin aggressive, the nose indomitable. She
was, by certain signs, charged with anger, but she saw upon the
faces of these two young fools the look of angels and an ineffable
kindness breathed upon her withered heart.

"So, you young fool, I have found you!" she said, harshly.

Ruth and Spurlock separated, the one embarrassed, the other utterly
dumfounded.

"Auntie?" he cried.

"Yes, Auntie! And to date you have cost me precisely sixteen
thousand dollars--hard earned, every one of them."

Spurlock wondered if something hadn't suddenly gone awry in his
head. He had just passed through a terrific physical test. Surely
he was imagining this picture. His aunt, here at McClintock's? It
was unbelievable. He righted a chair and sat in it, his face in his
hands. But when he looked again, there she was!

"I don't understand," he said, finally.

"You will before I'm done with you. I have come to take you home;
and hereafter my word will be the law. You will obey me out of
common decency. You can scribble if you want to, but after you've
given your eight hours daily to the mills. Sixteen thousand! Mark
me, young man, you'll pay it back through the nose, every dollar of
it!"

"I owe you nothing." Pain was stabbing him, now here, now there;
pain was real enough; but he could not establish as a fact in his
throbbing brain the presence of his aunt in the doorway. "I owe you
nothing," he repeated, dully.

"Hoity-toity! You owe me sixteen thousand dollars. They were very
nice about it, in memory of your father. They telephoned that you
had absconded with ten thousand, and that if I would make good the
loss within twenty-four hours, they would not prosecute. I sent my
check for ten thousand; and it has cost me six thousand to find
you. I should say that you owed me considerable."

Still his brain refused to assimilate the news or to deduce the
tremendous importance of it.

"You are Ruth?"

"Yes," said Ruth, stirred by anger and bitterness and astonishment.
This, then, was the woman from whom Hoddy would not have accepted a
cup of water.

"Come here," said the petticoated tyrant. Ruth obeyed, not
willingly, but because there was something hypnotic in the
authoritative tone. "Put your arms about me." Ruth did so, but
without any particular fervour. "Kiss me." Ruth slightly brushed
the withered cheek. The aunt laughed. "Love me, love my dog!
Because I've scolded him and told him a few truths, you are ice to
me. Not afraid of me, either."

"No," said Ruth, pulling back.

But the aunt seized her in her arms and rocked with her. "A miserly
old woman. Well, I've had to be. All my life I've had to fight
human wolves to hold what I have. So I've grown hard--outside.
What's all this about, anyhow? You. Far away there was the one
woman for this boy of mine--some human being who would understand
the dear fool better than all the rest of the world. But God did
not put you next door. He decided that Hoddy should pay a colossal
price for the Dawn Pearl--shame, loneliness, torment, for only
through these agencies would he learn your worth. The fibre of his
soul had to be tested, queerly, to make him worthy of you. Through
fire and water, through penury and pestilence, your hand will
always be on his shoulder. McClintock wrote me about you; but all I
needed was the sight of your face as it was a moment gone."

Gently she thrust Ruth aside. Ruth's eyes were wet, but she saw
light everywhere: the room was filled with celestial aura.

The aunt rushed over to her nephew, knelt and wrapped him in her
arms. "My little Hoddy! You used to love me; and I have always
loved you. The thought of you, wandering from pillar to post,
believing yourself hunted--it tore my old heart to pieces! For I
knew you. You would suffer the torments of the damned for what you
had done. So I set out to find you, even if it cost ten times
sixteen thousand. My poor Hoddy! I had to talk harshly, or break
down and have hysterics. I've come to take you back home. Don't you
understand? Back among your own again, and only a few of us the
wiser. Have you suffered?"

"Dear God!... every hour since!"

"The Spurlock conscience. That is why Wall Street broke your
father; he was honest."

"Ah, my father! The way you treated him...!"

"Good money after bad. You haven't heard my side if it, Hoddy. To
shore up a business that never had any foundation, he wanted me to
lend him a hundred thousand; and for his sake as well as for mine I
had to refuse. He wasn't satisfied with an assured income from the
paper-mills your grandfather left us. He wanted to become a
millionaire. So I had to buy out his interest, and it pinched me
dreadfully to do it. In the end he broke his own heart along with
your mother's. I even offered him back the half interest he had
sold to me. You sent back my Christmas checks."

"I had to. I couldn't accept anything from you."

"You might have added 'then'," said Miss Spurlock, drily.

"I'm an ungrateful dog!"

"You will be if you don't instantly kiss me the way you used to.
But your face! What happened here just before I came?"

"Perhaps God wasn't quite sure that I could hold what I had, and
wanted to try me out."

"And you whipped the beast? I passed him."

"At any rate, I won, for he went away. But, Auntie, however in this
world did you find this island?"

She told him. "The chief of the detective agency informed me that
it would be best not to let Mr. O'Higgins know the truth; he
wouldn't be reckless with the funds, then. For a time I didn't know
we'd ever find you. Then came the cable that you were in Canton,
ill, but not dangerously so. Mr. O'Higgins was to keep track of you
until I believed you had had enough punishment. Then he was to
arrest you and bring you home to me. When I learned you were
married, I changed my plans. I did not know what God had in mind
then. Mr. O'Higgins and I landed at Copeley's yesterday; and Mr.
McClintock sent his yacht over for us this morning. Hoddy, what
made you do it? Whatever made you do it?"

"God knows! Something said to me: _Take it! Take it!_ And ... I
took it. After I took the bills it was too late to turn back. I
drew out what I had saved and boarded the first ship out. Wait!"

He released himself from his aunt's embrace, ran to the trunk and
fetched the old coat. With the aid of a penknife he ripped the
shoulder seams and drew out the ten one-thousand dollar bills.
Gravely he placed them in his aunt's hand.

"You didn't spend it?"

"I never intended to spend it--any more than I really intended to
steal it. That's the sort of fool your nephew is!"

"Not even a good time!" said the aunt, whimsically, as she stuffed
the bills into her reticule. "Not a single whooper-upter! Nothing
but torment and remorse ... and Ruth! Children, put your arms
around me. In a little while--to-morrow--all these tender,
beautiful emotions will pass away, and I'll become what I was
yesterday, a cynical, miserly old spinster. I'll be wanting my
sixteen thousand."

"Six," he corrected.

"Why, so it is," she said, in mock astonishment. "Think of me
forgetting ten thousand so quickly!"

"Go to, you old fraud! You'll never fool me again. God bless you,
Auntie! I'll go into the mills and make pulp with my bare hands, if
you want me to. Home!--which I never hoped to see again. To dream
and to labour: to you, my labour; to Ruth, my dreams. And if
sometimes I grow heady--and it's in the blood--remind me of this
day when you took me out of hell--a thief."

"Hoddy!" said Ruth. "You mustn't!"

"Nothing can change that, Dawn Pearl. Auntie has taken the nails
out of my palms, but the scars will always be there."

There fell upon the three the silence of perfect understanding; and
in this silence each saw a vision. To Ruth came that of the great
world, her lawful lover at her side; and there would be glorious
books into each of which he would unconsciously put a little of her
soul along with his own, needing her always. The spinster saw
herself growing warm again in the morning sunshine of youth--a
flaring ember before the hearth grew cold. Spurlock's vision was
oddly of the past. He saw Enschede, making the empty sea, alone,
alone, forever alone.

"Children," said the aunt, first to awake, "be young fools as long
as God will permit you. And don't worry about the six thousand,
Hoddy. I'll call it my wedding gift. There's nothing so sad in this
world as an old fool," she added.

The three of them laughed joyously.

And Rollo, who had been waiting for some encouraging sound,
presented himself at the doorway. He was caked with dried muck. He
was a bad dog; he knew it perfectly; but where there was laughter,
there was hope. With his tongue lolling and his flea-bitten stump
wagging apologetically, he glanced from face to face to see if
there was any forgiveness visible. There was.



~THE END~

[Illustration: _Distinctive Pictures Photoplay      The Ragged Edge_
MIMI PALMERI AS RUTH ENSCHEDE ALFRED LUNT AS HOWARD SPURLOCK]

[Illustration: _Distinctive Pictures Photoplay      The Ragged Edge_
A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY]

[Illustration: _Distinctive Pictures Photoplay      The Ragged Edge_
A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY]

[Illustration: _Distinctive Pictures Photoplay      The Ragged Edge_
A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY]





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