The picture of her flashed across the doctor’s vision magically. The emerald wings, slashed with scarlet and yellow, wheeling and swooping about her head, there among the wild plantain.
“I never told anybody,” she went on. “An audience might have frightened the birds. Only in the sunshine; they would not answer my whistle on cloudy days.”
“Didn’t the natives have a name for you?”
She blushed. “It was silly.”
“Go on, tell me,” he urged, enchanted. Never was there another girl like this one. He blushed, too, spiritually, as it were. He had invited himself to dine with her merely to watch her table manners. They were exquisite. Knowing the South Seas from hearsay and by travel, he knew something of that inertia which blunted the fineness, innate and acquired, of white men and women, the eternal warfare against indifference and slovenliness. Only the strong survived. This queer father of hers had given her everything but his arms. “Tell me, what did they call you?”
“Well, the old Kanaka cook used to call me the Golden One, but the natives called me the Dawn Pearl.”
“The Dawn Pearl! Odd, but we white folks aren’t half so poetical as the yellow or the black. What did you do when your father went on trips to other islands?”
“Took off my shoes and stockings and played in the lagoon.”
“He made you wear shoes and stockings?”
“What else did you do when alone?”
“I read the encyclopaedia. That is how I learned that there were such things as novels. Books! Aren’t they wonderful?”
The blind alley of life stretching out before her, with its secret doorways and hidden menaces; and she was unconcerned. Books; an inexplicable hunger to be satisfied. Somewhere in the world there was a book clerk with a discerning mind; for he had given her the best he had. He envied her a little. To fall upon those tales for the first time, when the mind was fresh and the heart was young!
He became aware of an odd phase to this conversation. The continuity was frequently broken in upon by diversory suppositions. Take the one that struck him at this moment. Supposing that was it; at least, a solution to part of this amazing riddle? Supposing her father had made her assist him in the care of the derelicts solely to fill her with loathing and abhorrence for mankind?
“Didn’t you despise the men your father brought home—the beachcombers?”
“No. In the beginning was afraid; but after the first several cases, I had only pity. I somehow understood.”
“Didn’t some of them ... try to touch you?”
“Not the true unfortunates. How men suffer for the foolish things they do!”
“Ay to that. There’s our young friend upstairs.”
“There’s a funny idea in my head. I’ve been thinking about it ever since morning. There was a loose button on that coat, and I want to sew it on. It keeps dangling in front of my eyes.”