“I hadn’t thought of that. It wouldn’t do to say that she was from the hospital. She’s too pretty and unusual. Besides, I’m afraid her simple honesty will spoil any invented yarn. When anybody is natural, these days, we dub them queer. The contact is disturbing; and we prefer going around the fact to facing it. Aren’t we funny? And just as I was beginning to lose faith in human beings, to have someone like this come along! It is almost as if she were acting a role, and she isn’t. I’ll talk to her in the morning, but she won’t understand what I’m driving at. Born on a South Sea island, she said.”
“Ah! Now I can get a perspective. This is her first adventure. She isn’t used to cities.”
“But how in the Lord’s name was she brought up? There’s a queer story back of this somewhere.”
The manager extended his hands at large, as if to deny any responsibility in the affair. “Never heard of a sing-song girl; never heard of a geisha! Flower of the Lotus: the sing-song girl called her that.”
“The White Hollyhock would fit her better. There is something sensual in the thought of lotus flowers. Hollyhocks make one think of a bright June Sunday and the way to church!”
“Do you suppose that young fool has done anything?”
The doctor shrugged. “I don’t know. I shouldn’t care to express an opinion. I ought to stay the night through; but I’m late now for an operation at the hospital. Good night.”
He departed, musing. How plainly he could see the patch of garden in the summer sunshine and the white hollyhocks nodding above the picket fence!
* * * * *
Ruth sat waiting for the half hour, subconsciously. Her thoughts were busy with the possibilities of this break in her journey. Somebody to depend upon her; somebody to have need of her, if only for a little while. In all her life no living thing had had to depend upon her, not even a dog or a cat. All other things were without weight or consequence before the fact that this poor young man would have to depend upon her for his life. The amazing tonic of the thought!
From time to time she laid her hand upon Spurlock’s forehead: it was still cold. But the rise of the chest was quite perceptible now.
From where had he come, and why? An author! To her he would be no less interesting because he was unsuccessful. Stories ... love stories: and to-morrow she would know the joy of reading them! It was almost unbelievable; it was too good to be true. It filled her with indefinable fear. Until now none of her prayers had ever been answered. Why should God give particular attention to such a prayer, when He had ignored all others? Certainly there was a trap somewhere.
So, while she watched, distressed and bewildered by her tumbling thoughts, the packet, Canton bound, ruffled the placid waters of the Pearl River. In one of the cabins a man sat on the edge of his narrow bunk. In his muscular pudgy hand was a photograph, frayed at the corners, soiled from the contact of many hands: the portrait of a youth of eighteen.