And yet he knew that his skill was equal to that of any fashionable practitioner in Hong-Kong. He wasn’t quite hard enough to win worldly success; that was his fault. Anybody in pain had only to call to him. So, here he was, on the last lap of middle age, in China, having missed all the thrills in life except one—the war against Death. It rather astonished him. He hadn’t followed this angle of thought in ten years: what he might have been, with a little shrewd selfishness. This extraordinary child had opened up an old channel through which it was no longer safe to cruise. She was like an angel with one wing. The simile started a laugh in his throat.
“Why do you laugh?” she asked gravely.
“At a thought. Of you—an angel with one wing.”
“Meaning that I don’t belong anywhere, in heaven or on earth?”
“Meaning that you must cut off the wing or grow another to mate it. Let’s go up and see how the patient is doing. Wu may have news for us. We’ll get those books into your room first. And I’ll have supper with you.”
“If only....” But she did not complete the thought aloud. If only this man had been her father! The world would have meant nothing; the island would have been wide enough.
“You were saying—?”
“I started to say something; that is all.”
“By the way, did you read those stories?”
“I don’t know.”
“Silly love stories?”
“No; love wasn’t the theme. Supposing you take them and read them? You might be able to tell me why I felt disappointed.”
“All right. I’ll take them back with me. Probably he has something to say and can’t say it, or he writes well about nothing.”
“Do you believe his failure caused....”
“What?” he barked. But he did not follow on with the thought. There was no need of sowing suspicion when he wasn’t really certain there were grounds for it. “Well, you never can tell,” he continued, lamely. “These writer chaps are queer birds.”
He laughed and followed her into the hotel. “More slang,” he said. “I’ll have to set you right on that, too.”
“I have heard sailors use words like that, but I never knew what they meant.”
Sailors, he thought; and most of them the dregs of the South Seas, casting their evil glances at this exquisite creature and trying to smirch with innuendo the crystal clearness of her mind. Perhaps there were experiences she would never confide to any man. Sudden indignation boiled up in him. The father was a madman. It did not matter that he wore the cloth; something was wrong with him. He hadn’t played fair.
“Remember; we must keep the young fellow’s thoughts away from himself. Tell him about the island, the coconut dance, the wooden tom-toms; read to him.”
“What made him buy that sing-song girl?” Regarding this, Ruth had ideas of her own, but she wanted the doctor’s point of view.