“Do girls have puppy-love?”
“Land sakes, yes! On the average they are worse than the boys. A boy can forget his amatory troubles playing baseball; but a girl can’t find any particular distraction in doing fancy work. Do you know, I envy you. All the world before you, all the ologies. What an adventure! Of course, you’ll bark your shins here and there and hit your funnybone; but the newness of everything will be something of a compensation. All right. Let’s get one idea into our heads. We are going to have this chap writing books one of these days.”
Ideas are never born; they are suggested; they are planted seeds. Ruth did not reply, but stared past the doctor, her eyes misty. The doctor had sown a seed, carelessly. All that he had sown that afternoon with such infinite care was as nothing compared to this seed, cast without forethought. Ruth’s mind was fertile soil; for a long time to come it would be something of a hothouse: green things would spring up and blossom overnight. Already the seed of a tender dream was stirring. The hour for which, presumably, she had been created was drawing nigh. For in life there is but one hour: an epic or an idyll: all other hours lead up to and down from it.
“By the way,” said the doctor, as he sat down in the dining room of the Victoria and ordered tea, “I’ve been thinking it over.”
“We’ll put those stories back into the trunk and never speak of them to him.”
“But why not?”
The doctor dallied with his teaspoon. Something about the girl had suggested an idea. It would have been the right idea, had Ruth been other than what she was. First-off, he had decided not to tell her what he had found at the bottom of that manila envelope. Now it occurred to him that to show her the sealed letter would be a better way. Impressionable, lonely, a deal beyond his analytical reach, the girl might let her sympathies go beyond those of the nurse. She would be enduing this chap with attributes he did not possess, clothing him in fictional ruffles. To disillusion her, forthwith.
“I’ll tell you why,” he said. “At the bottom of that big envelope I found this one.”
He passed it over; and Ruth read:
To be opened in case of my
death and the letter inside
forwarded to the address thereon. All my personal effects
to be left in charge of the nearest American Consulate.
Ruth lost the point entirely. The doctor expected her to seize upon the subtle inference that there was something furtive, even criminal, in the manner the patient set this obligation upon humanity at large, to look after him in the event of his death. The idea of anything criminal never entered her thoughts. Any man might have endeavoured to protect himself in this fashion, a man with no one to care, with an unnameable terror at the thought (as if it mattered!) of being buried in alien earth, far from the familiar places he loved.