There was no way over this puzzle, nor under it, nor around it: that men should drink, knowing the inevitable payment. This young man did not drink because he sought the false happiness that lured men to the bottle. To her mind, recalling the picture of him the night before, there had been something tragic in the grim silent manner of his tippling. Peg after peg had gone down his blistered throat, but never had a smile touched his lips, never had his gaze roved inquisitively. Apparently he had projected beyond his table some hypnotic thought, for it had held him all through the dining hour.
Evidently he was gazing at the dull red roofs of the city: but was he registering what he saw? Never glance sideways at man, the old Kanaka woman had said. Yes, yes; that was all very well in ordinary cases; but yonder was a soul in travail, if ever she had seen one. Here was not the individual against whom she had been warned. He had not addressed to her even the most ordinary courtesy of fellow travellers; she doubted that he was even aware of her existence. She went further: she doubted that he was fully conscious of where he was.
Suddenly she became aware of the fact that he had brought no lunch. A little kindness would not bring the world tumbling about her ears. So she approached him with sandwiches.
“You forgot your lunch,” she said. “Won’t you take these?”
For a space he merely stared at her, perhaps wondering if she were real. Then a bit of colour flowed into his sunken white cheeks.
“Thank you; but I’ve a pocket full of water-chestnuts. I’m not hungry.”
“Better eat these, even if you don’t want them,” she urged. “My name is Ruth Enschede.”
“Mine is Howard Spurlock.”
Immediately he stepped back. Instinctively she imitated this action, chilled and a little frightened at the expression of terror that confronted her. Why should he stare at her in this fashion?—for all the world as if she had pointed a pistol at his head?
He had said it, spoken it like that ... his own name! After all these weeks of trying to obliterate even the memory of it!... to have given it to this girl without her asking!
The thought of peril cleared a space in the alcoholic fog. He saw the expression on the girl’s face and understood what it signified, that it was the reflected pattern of his own. He shut his eyes and groped for the wall to steady himself, wondering if this bit of mummery would get over.
“I beg your pardon!... A bit rocky this morning.... That window there.... Cloud back of your hat!” He opened his eyes again.
“I understand,” she said. The poor boy, imagining things! “That’s want of substantial food. Better take these sandwiches.”
“All right; and thank you. I’ll eat them when we start. Just now the water-chestnuts....”