“Who is she? Where does she come from?”
“You mean Miss Enschede?”
“Yes. That dress she has on—my mother might have worn it.”
He was beginning to notice things, then? The doctor was pleased. The boy was coming around.
“Miss Enschede was born on an island in the South Seas. She is setting out for Hartford, Connecticut. The dress was her mother’s, and she was wearing it to save a little extra money.”
The doctor had entered the room fully determined to tell the patient the major part of Ruth’s story, to inspire him with proper respect and gratitude. Instead, he could not get beyond these minor details—why she wore the dress, whence she had come, and whither she was bound. The idea of this sudden reluctance was elusive; the fact was evident but not the reason for it.
“How would you like a job on a copra plantation?” he asked, irrelevantly to the thoughts crowding one another in his mind. “Out of the beaten track, with a real man for an employer? How would that strike you?”
Interest shot into Spurlock’s eyes; it spread to his wan face. Out of the beaten track! He must not appear too eager. “I’ll need a job when I quit this bed. I’m not particular what or where.”
“That kind of talk makes you sound like a white man. Of course, I can’t promise you the job definitely. But I’ve an old friend on the way here, and he knows the game down there. If he hasn’t a job for you, he’ll know someone who has. Managers and accountants are always shifting about, so he tells me. It’s mighty lonesome down there for a man bred to cities.”
“Find me the job. I don’t care how lonesome it is.”
Out of the beaten track! thought Spurlock. A forgotten island beyond the ship lanes, where that grim Hand would falter and move blindly in its search for him! From what he had read, there wouldn’t be much to do; and in the idle hours he could write.
“Thanks,” he said, holding out a thin white hand. “I’ll be very glad to take that kind of a job, if you can find it.”
“Well, that’s fine. Got you interested in something, then? Would you like a peg?”
“No. I hated the stuff. There was a pleasant numbness in the bottle; that’s why I went to it.”
“Thought so. But I had to know for sure. Down there, whisky raises the very devil with white men. Don’t build your hopes too high; but I will do what I can. While there’s life there’s hope. Buck up.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“You or this girl. There are, then, in this sorry world, people who can be disinterestedly kind!”
The doctor laughed, gave Spurlock’s shoulder a pat, and left the room. Outside the door he turned and stared at the panels. Why hadn’t he gone on with the girl’s story? What instinct had stuffed it back into his throat? Why the inexplicable impulse to hurry this rather pathetic derelict on his way?