Inexplicably there flashed into vision the Chinese wedding procession in the narrow, twisted streets of the city, that first day: the gorgeous palanquin, the tom-toms, the weird music, the ribald, jeering mob that trailed along behind. It was surely odd that her thought should pick up that picture and recast it so vividly.
At half after five that afternoon the doctor and his friend McClintock entered the office of the Victoria.
“It’s a great world,” was the manager’s greeting.
“So it is,” the doctor agreed. “But what, may I ask, arouses the thought?”
The doctor was in high good humour. Within forty-eight hours the girl would be on her way east and the boy see-sawing the South China Sea, for ever moving at absolute angles.
“Then you haven’t heard?”
“Well, well!” cried the manager, delighted at the idea of surprising the doctor. “Miss Enschede and Mr. Spurlock—for that’s his real name—were married at high noon.”
Emptiness; that was the doctor’s initial sensation: his vitals had been whisked out of him and the earth from under his feet. All his interest in Ruth, all his care and solicitude, could now be translated into a single word—love. Wanted her out of the way because he had been afraid of her, afraid of himself! He, at fifty-four! Then into this void poured a flaming anger, a blind and unreasoning anger. He took the first step toward the stairs, and met the restraining hand of McClintock.
“Steady, old top! What are you going to do?”
“The damned scoundrel!”
“I told you that child was opal.”
“She? My God, the pity of it! She knows nothing of life. She no more realizes what she has done than a child of eight. Marriage! ... without the least conception of the physical and moral responsibilities! It’s a crime, Mac!”
“But what can you do?” McClintock turned to the manager. “’It was all perfectly legal?
“My word for it. The Reverend Henry Dolby performed the cermony, and his wife and daughter were witnesses.”
“When you heard what was going on, why didn’t you send for me?”
“I didn’t know it was going on. I heard only after it was all over.”
“If he could stand on two feet, I’d break every bone in his worthless body!”
McClintock said soothingly: “But that wouldn’t nullify the marriage, old boy. I know. Thing’s upset you a bit. Go easy.”
“But, Mac . . . !”
“I understand,” interrupted McClintock. Then, in a whisper: “But there’s no reason why the whole hotel should.”
The doctor relaxed. “I’ve got to see him; but I’ll be reasonable. I’ve got to know why. And what will they do, and where will they go?”
“With me—the both of them. So far as I’m concerned, nothing could please me more. A married man!—the kind I’ve never been able to lure down there! But keep your temper in check. Don’t lay it all to the boy. The girl is in it as deeply as he is. I’ll wait for you down here.”