“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