He now understood her interest in Taber, as he called himself: habit, a twice-told tale. A beachcomber in embryo, and she had lent a hand through habit as much as through pity. The grim mockery of it!—those South Sea loafers, taking advantage of Enschede’s Christianity and imposing upon him, accepting his money and medicines and laughing behind his back! No doubt they made the name a byword and a subject for ribald jest in the waterfront bars. And this clear-visioned child had comprehended that only half the rogues were really ill. But Enschede took them as they came, without question. Charity for the ragtag and the bobtail of the Seven Seas, and none for his own flesh and blood.
This started a thought moving. There must be something behind the missioner’s actions, something of which the girl knew nothing nor suspected. It would not be possible otherwise to live in daily contact with this level-eyed, lovely girl without loving her. Something with iron resolve the father had kept hidden all these years in the lonely citadel of his heart. Teaching the word of God to the recent cannibal, caring for the sick, storming the strongholds of the plague, adding his own private income to the pittance allowed him by the Society, and never seeing the angel that walked at his side! Something the girl knew nothing about; else Enschede was unbelievable.
It now came to him with an added thrill how well she had told her story; simply and directly, no skipping, no wandering hither and yon: from the first hour she could remember, to the night she had fled in the proa, a clear sustained narrative. And through it all, like a golden thread on a piece of tapestry, weaving in and out of the patterns, the unspoken longing for love.
“Well,” she said, as they reached the hotel portal, “what is your advice?”
“Would you follow it?”
“Probably not. Still, I am curious.”
“I do not say that what you have done is wrong in any sense. I do not blame you for the act. There are human limitations, and no doubt you reached yours. For all that, it is folly. If you knew your aunt were alive, if she expected you, that would be different. But to plunge blindly into the unknown!”
“I had to! I had to!”
She had told him only the first part of her story. She wondered if the second part would overcome his objections? Several times the words had rushed to her tongue, to find her tongue paralysed. To a woman she might have confided; but to this man, kindly as he was, it was unthinkable. How could she tell him of the evil that drew her and drew her, as a needle to the magnet?—the fascinating evil that even now, escaped as it was, went on distilling its poison in her mind?
“Yes, yes!” said the doctor. “But if you do not find this aunt, what will you do? What can you do to protect yourself against hunger?”
“I’ll find something.”
“But warn the aunt, prepare her, if she lives.”