“This is very fine of you, Miss....”
“Ah. Well, come back in half an hour. I’ll send for Wu Fang. He speaks English. Not a job he may care about; but he’s a good sport. The hard work will be his, until we yank this young fellow back from the brink. Run along now; but return in half an hour.”
The doctor was in the middle fifties, gray and careworn, but with alert blue eyes and a gentle mouth. He smiled at Ruth as she turned away from the bed, smiled with both his mouth and eyes; and she knew that here would be a man of heart as well as of science. She went out into the hall, where she met the Jedsons in their kimonos.
“What has happened?” asked Sister Prudence. “We’ve heard coming and going.”
“Mr. Taber is very ill.”
“Oh.” Prudence shrugged. “Well, what can you expect, guzzling poison like that? Are you returning with us to Hong-Kong in the morning?”
“No. I am going to help take care of him,” said Ruth, quite ordinarily, as though taking care of unknown derelicts was an ordinary event in her life.
“What?—help take care of him? Why, you can’t do that, Miss Enschede!” was the protest.
“Why can’t I?”
“You will be compromised. It isn’t as if he were stricken with typhoid or pneumonia or something like that. You will certainly be compromised.”
“Compromised.” Ruth repeated the word, not in the effect of a query, but ruminantly. “Mutual concessions,” she added. “I don’t quite understand the application.”
Sister Prudence looked at Sister Angelina, who understood what was expected of her. Sister Angelina shook her head as if to say that such ignorance was beyond her.
“Why, it means that people will think evilly of you.”
“For a bit of kindness?” Ruth was plainly bewildered.
“You poor child!” Prudence took Ruth’s hands in her own. “I never saw the like of you! One has to guard one’s actions constantly in this wicked world, if one is a woman, young and pretty. A woman such as I am might help take care of Mr. Taber and no one comment upon it. But you couldn’t. Never in this world! Let the hotel people take care of him; it’s their affair. They sold him the whisky. Come along with us in the morning. Your father....”
Prudence felt the hands stiffen oddly; and again the thought came to her that perhaps this poor child’s father had once been, perhaps still was, in the same category as this Taber.
“It’s a fine idea, my child, but you mustn’t do it. Even if he were an old friend, you couldn’t afford to do it. But a total stranger, a man you never saw twenty-four hours ago! It can’t be thought of. It isn’t your duty.”
“I feel bewildered,” said Ruth. “Is it wrong, then, to surrender to good impulses?”
“In the present instance, yes. Can’t I make you understand? Perhaps it sounds cruel to you; but we women often have to be cruel defensively. You don’t want people to snub you later. This isn’t your island, child; it’s the great world.”