Walls; queer, invisible walls that receded whenever she reached out, but that still remained between her and what she sought. The wall of the sky, the wall of the horizon, the wall behind which each human being hid—the wall behind which she herself was hiding! If only her mother had lived, her darling mother!
Presently the unhappy puzzlement left her face; and an inward glow began to lighten it. The curtain before one mystery was torn aside, and she saw in reality what lay behind the impulse that had led her into the young man’s room. Somebody to whom she would be necessary, who for days would have to depend upon her for the needs of life. An inarticulate instinct which now found expression. Upon what this instinct was based she could not say; she was conscious only of its insistence. Briefly explained, she was as the child who discards the rag baby for the living one. Spurlock was no longer a man before this instinct; he was a child in trouble.
Her cogitations were dissipated by a knock on the door. The visitor was the hotel manager, who respectfully announced that the doctor was ready for her. So Ruth took another step toward her destination, which we in our vanity call destiny.
“Will he live?” asked Ruth.
“Thanks to you,” said the doctor. “Without proper medical care, he would have been dead by morning.” He smiled at her as he smiled at death, cheerfully.
The doctor’s smile is singular; there is no other smile that reaches the same level. It is the immediate inspiration of confidence; it alleviates pain, because we know by that smile that pain is soon to leave us; it becomes the bulwark against our depressive thoughts of death; and it is the promise that we still have a long way to go before we reach the Great Terminal.
In passing, why do we fear death? For our sins? Rather, isn’t it the tremendous inherent human curiosity to know what is going to happen to-morrow that causes us to wince at the thought of annihilation? A subconscious resentment against the idea of entering darkness while our neighbour will proceed with his petty affairs as usual?
“It’s nip and tuck,” said the doctor; “but we’ll pull him through. Probably his first serious bout with John Barleycorn. If he had eaten food, this wouldn’t have happened. It is not a dissipated face.”
“No; it is only—what shall I say?—troubled. The ragged edge.”
“Yes. This is also the ragged edge of the world, too. It is the bottom of the cup, where all the dregs appear to settle. But this chap is good wine yet. We’ll have him on his way before many days. But ... he must want to live in order that the inclination to repeat this incident may not recur. The manager tells me that you are an American. So am I. For ten years I’ve been trying to go home, but my conscience will not permit me, I hate the Orient. It drives one mad at times. Superstition—you knock into it whichever way you turn. The Oriental accepts my medicines kowtowing, and when my back is turned, chucks the stuff out of the window and burns joss-sticks. I hate this part of the world.”