“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?”
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 Miserables, A Tale of Two Cities, Henry Esmond, The Last Days of Pompeii, The Marble Faun ... Love stories!