Close upon this came another thought. She had no place she loved. In all this world there was no sacred ground that said to her: Return! She was of all human beings the most lonely. Even now, during the recurring doubts of the future, the thought of the island was repellent. She hated it, she hated the mission-house; she hated the sleek lagoon, the palms, the burning sky. But some day she would find a place to love: there would be rosy apples on the boughs, and there would be flurries of snow blowing into her face. It was astonishing how often this picture returned: cold rosy apples and flurries of snow.
“The poor young man!” she said.
The doctor sensed that his bolt had gone wrong, but he could not tell how or why. He dared not go on. He was not sure that the boy had put himself beyond the pale; merely, the boy’s actions pointed that way. If he laid his own suspicions boldly before the girl, and in the end the boy came clean, he would always be haunted by the witless cruelty of the act.
That night in his den he smoked many pipes. Twice he cleaned the old briar; still there was no improvement. He poured a pinch of tobacco into his palm and sniffed. The weed was all right. Probably something he had eaten. He was always forgetting that his tummy was fifty-four years old.
He would certainly welcome McClintock’s advent. Mac would have some new yarns to spin and a fresh turn-over to his celebrated liver. He was a comforting, humorous old ruffian; but there were few men in the Orient more deeply read in psychology and physiognomy. It was, in a way, something of a joke to the doctor: psychology and physiognomy on an island which white folks did not visit more than three or four times a year, only then when they had to. Why did the beggar hang on down there, when he could have enjoyed all that civilization had to offer? Yes, he would be mighty glad to see McClintock; and the sooner he came the better.
Sometimes at sea a skipper will order his men to trim, batten down the hatches, and clear the deck of all litter. The barometer says nothing, neither the sky nor the water; the skipper has the “feel” that out yonder there’s a big blow moving. Now the doctor had the “feel” that somewhere ahead lay danger. It was below consciousness, elusive; so he sent out a call to his friend, defensively.
* * * * *
At the end of each day Ah Cum would inquire as to the progress of the patient, and invariably the answer was: “About the same.” This went on for ten days. Then Ah Cum was notified that the patient had sat up in bed for quarter of an hour. Promptly Ah Cum wired the information to O’Higgins in Hong-Kong. The detective reckoned that his quarry would be up in ten days more.
To Ruth the thought of Hartford no longer projected upon her vision a city of spires and houses and tree-lined streets. Her fanciful imagination no longer drew pictures of the aunt in the doorway of a wooden house, her arms extended in welcome. The doctor’s lessons, perhaps delivered with too much serious emphasis, had destroyed that buoyant confidence in her ability to take care of herself.