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.