One morning he caught her hand suddenly and kissed it. Men had tried that before, but never until now had they been quick enough. The touch of his lips neither thrilled nor alarmed her, because the eyes that looked into hers were clean. Spurlock knew exactly what he was doing, however: speculative mischief, to see how she would act.
“I haven’t offended you?”—not contritely but curiously.
“No”—as if her thoughts were elsewhere.
Something in her lack of embarrassment irritated him. “Has no man ever kissed you?”
“No.” Which was literally the truth.
He accepted this confession conditionally: that no young man had kissed her. There was nothing of the phenomenon in this. But his astonishment would have been great indeed had he known that not even her father had ever caressed her, either with lips or with hands.
Ruth had lived in a world without caresses. The significance of the kiss was still obscure to her, though she had frequently encountered the word and act in the Old and New Testaments and latterly in novels. Men had tried to kiss her—unshaven derelicts, some of them terrible—but she had always managed to escape. What had urged her to wrench loose and fly was the guarding instinct of the good woman. Something namelessly abhorrent in the eyes of those men...!
She knew what arms were for—to fold and embrace and to hold one tightly; but why men wished to kiss women was still a profound mystery. No matter how often she came across this phase in love stories, there was never anything explanatory: as if all human beings perfectly understood. It would not have been for her an anomaly to read a love story in which there were no kisses.
This salute of his—actually the first she could remember—while it did not disturb her, began to lead her thoughts into new channels of speculation. The more her thoughts dwelt upon the subject, the more convinced she was that she could not go to any one for help; she would have to solve the riddle by her own efforts, by some future experience.
“The Dawn Pearl,” he said.
“The natives have foolish ways of saying things.”
“On the contrary, if that is a specimen, they must be poets. Tell me about your island. I have never seen a lagoon.”
“But you can imagine it. Tell me what you think the island is like.”
He did not pause to consider how she had learned that he had imagination; he comprehended only the direct challenge. To be free of outward distraction, he shut his eyes and concentrated upon the scraps she had given him; and shortly, with his eyes still closed, he began to describe Ruth’s island: the mountain at one end, with the ever-recurring scarves of mist drifting across the lava-scarred face; the jungle at the foot of it; the dazzling border of white sand; the sprawling store of the trader and the rotting wharf, sundrily patched with drift-wood; the native huts on the sandy floor of the palm groves; the scattered sandalwood and ebony; the screaming parakeets in the plantains; the fishing proas; the mission with its white washed walls and barren frontage; the lagoon, fringed with coco palms, now ruffled emerald, now placid sapphire.