“So I perceive,” said Ruth, withdrawing her hands. “He is all alone. Without care he will die.”
“But, goodness me, the hotel will take care of him! Why not? They sold him the poison. Besides, I have my doubts that he is so very sick. Probably he will come around to-morrow and begin all over again. You’re alone, too, child. I’m trying to make you see the worldly point of view, which always inclines toward the evil side of things.”
“I have promised. After all, why should I care what strangers think?” Ruth asked with sudden heat. “Is there no charity? Isn’t it understood?”
“Of course it is! In the present instance I can offer it and you can’t, or shouldn’t. There are unwritten laws governing human conduct. Who invented them? Nobody knows. But woe to those who disregard them! Of course, basically it is all wrong; and sometimes God must laugh at our ideas of rectitude. But to live at peace with your neighbour....”
Ruth brushed her eyes with one hand and with the other signed for the spinster to stop. “No more, please! I am bewildered enough. I understand nothing of what you say. I only know that it is right to do what I do.”
“Well,” said Sister Prudence, “remember, I tried to save you some future heartaches. God bless you, anyhow!” she added, with a spontaneity which surprised Sister Angelina into uttering an individual gasp. “Good-bye!”
For a moment Ruth was tempted to fling herself against the withered bosom; but long since she had learned repression. She remained stonily in the middle of the hallway until the spinsters’ door shut them from view ... for ever.
[Illustration: Distinctive Pictures Corporation. The Ragged Edge. A scene from the photoplay.]
Slowly Ruth entered her own room. She opened her suitcase—new and smelling strongly of leather—and took out of it a book, dogeared and precariously held together, bound in faded blue cloth and bearing the inscription: The Universal Handbook. Herein was the sum of human knowledge in essence.
In the beginning it was a dictionary. Words were given with their original meaning, without their ramifications. If you were a poet in need of rhymes, you had only to turn to a certain page. Or, if you were about to embark upon a nautical career, here was all the information required. It also told you how to write on all occasions, how to take out a patent, how to doctor a horse, and who Achates was. You could, if you were ambitious to round out your education, memorize certain popular foreign phrases.
But beyond “amicable agreement in which mutual concessions are made,” the word “compromise” was as blank as the Canton wall at night. There were words, then, that ran on indefinitely, with reversals? Here they meant one thing; there, the exact opposite. To be sure, Ruth had dimly been aware of this; but now for the first time she was made painfully conscious of it. Mutual concessions!—and then to turn it around so that it suggested that an act of kindness might be interpreted as moral obloquy!