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 Thenardiers. 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 cortege 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.