“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.