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Chapter 17

  • After the Ten Commandments have been spoken, conscience becomes less somethin_nherent than something acquired. It is now a point of view, differing widely, as the ignorant man differs from the educated. You and I will agree upon th_en Commandments; but perhaps we will refuse to accept the other'_nterpretation of the ramifications. I step on my neighbour's feet, return an_pologize because my acquired conscience orders me to do so; whereas you migh_ass on without caring if your neighbour hopped about on one foot. Th_nherent conscience keeps most of us away from jail, from court, from th_allows; the acquired conscience helps us to preserve the little amenities o_aily life. So then, the acquired is the livelier phase, being driven int_ction daily; whereas the inherent may lie dormant for months, even years.
  • To Spurlock, in this hour, his conscience stood over against the Te_ommandments, one of which he had broken. He became primitive, literal in hi_onception; the ramifications were, for the nonce, fairly relegated to limbo.
  • He could not kiss Ruth because the acquired conscience—struggling on its wa_o limbo—made the idea repellant. Analysis would come later, when th_rimitive conscience, satisfied, would cease to dominate his thought an_ction.
  • Since morning he had become fanatical; the atoms of common sense no longe_unctioned in the accustomed groove. And yet he knew clearly and definitel_hat he purposed to do, what the future would be. This species of madnes_annot properly be attributed to his illness, though its accent might be. Fo_ time he would be the grim Protestant Flagellant, pursuing the idea of self- castigation. That he was immolating Ruth on the altar of his conscience neve_roke in upon his thought for consideration. The fanatic has no such word i_is vocabulary.
  • Ruth had not expected to be kissed; so the omission passed unnoted. For her i_as sufficient to know that somebody wanted her, that never again would she b_lone, that always this boy with the dreams would be depending upon her.
  • A strange betrothal!—the primal idea of which was escape! The girl, inten_pon abrogating for ever all legal rights of the father in the daughter, o_endering innocuous the thing she had now named the Terror: the boy, seekin_elf-crucifixion in expiation of his transgression, changing a peccadillo int_amnation!
  • It was easy for Ruth to surrender to the idea, for she believed she was loved; and in gratitude it was already her determination to give this boy her heart'_lood, drop by drop, if he wanted it. To her, marriage would be a buckle_gainst the two evils which pursued her.
  • There was nothing on the Tablets of Moses that forebade Spurlock marryin_uth; there were no previous contracts. And yet, Spurlock was afraid of th_octor; so was Ruth. They agreed that they must marry at once, this morning, before the doctor could suspect what was toward. The doctor would naturall_ffer a hundred objections; he might seriously interfere; so he must b_orestalled.
  • What marriage really meant (aside from the idea of escape), Ruth had not th_east conception, no more than a child. If she had any idea at all, it wa_omething she dimly recalled from her books: something celestially beautiful, with a happy ending. But the clearly definite thing was the ultimate escape.
  • Wherein she differed but little from her young sisters.
  • That is what marriage is to most young women: the ultimate escape from th_amily, from the unwritten laws that govern children. Whether they are love_r unloved has no bearing upon this desire to test their wings, to try thi_ew adventure, to take this leap into the dark.
  • Spurlock possessed a vigorous intellect, critical, disquisitional, creative; and yet he saw nothing remarkable in the girl's readiness to marry him! A_bsession is a blind spot.
  • "We must marry at once! The doctor may put me on the boat and force you t_emain behind, otherwise."
  • "And you want me to find a minister?" she asked, with ready comprehension.
  • "That's it!"—eagerly. "Bring him back with you. Some of the hotel guests ca_ct as witnesses. Make haste!"
  • Ruth hurried off to her own room. Before she put on her sun-helmet, she pause_efore the mirror. Her wedding gown! She wondered if the spirit of the unknow_other looked down upon her.
  • "All I want is to be happy!" she said aloud, as if she were asking fo_omething of such ordinary value that God would readily accord it to he_ecause there was so little demand for the commodity.
  • Thrilling, she began to dance, swirled, glided, and dipped. Wheneve_cstasy—any kind of ecstasy—filled her heart to bursting, these physica_xpressions eased the pressure.
  • Fate has two methods of procedure—the sudden and the long-drawn-out. In som_nstances she tantalizes the victim for years and mocks him in the end. I_thers, she acts with the speed and surety of the loosed arrow. In the presen_nstance she did not want any interference; she did not want the doctor'_isdom to edge in between these two young fools and spoil the drama. So sh_rought upon the stage the Reverend Henry Dolby, a preacher of means, worldly- wise and kindly, cheery and rotund, who, with his wife and daughter, ha_rrived at the Victoria that morning. Ruth met him in the hall as he wa_ollowing his family into the dining room. She recognized the cloth at once, waylaid him, and with that directness of speech particularly hers sh_xplained what she wanted.
  • "To be sure I will, my child. I will be up with my wife and daughter afte_unch."
  • "We'll be waiting for you. You are very kind." Ruth turned back toward th_tairs.
  • Later, when the Reverend Henry Dolby entered the Spurlock room, his wife an_aughter trailing amusedly behind him, and beheld the strained eagerness o_he two young faces, he smiled inwardly and indulgently. Here were th_assionate lovers! What their past had been he neither cared nor craved t_now. Their future would be glorious; he saw it in their eyes; he saw it i_he beauty of their young heads. Of course, at home there would have bee_uestions. Were the parents agreeable? Were they of age? Had the license bee_rocured? But here, in a far country, only the velvet manacles of wedlock wer_ecessary.
  • So, forthwith, without any preliminaries beyond introductions, he began th_eremony; and shortly Ruth Enschede became Ruth Spurlock, for better or fo_orse. Spurlock gave his full name and tremblingly inscribed it upon th_ertificate of marriage.
  • The customary gold band was missing; but a soft gold Chinese ring Spurlock ha_icked up in Singapore—the characters representing good luck an_rosperity—was slipped over Ruth's third finger.
  • "There is no fee," said Dolby. "I am very happy to be of service to you. And _ish you all the happiness in the world."
  • Mrs. Dolby was portly and handsome. There were lines in her face that age ha_ot put there. Guiding this man of hers over the troubled sea of life ha_ngraved these lines. He was the true optimist; and that he should proceed, serenely unconscious of reefs and storms, she accepted the double buffets.
  • This double buffetting had sharpened her shrewdness and insight. Where he_usband saw only two youngsters in the mating mood, she felt that tragedy i_ome phase lurked in this room—if only in the loneliness of these two, withou_ith or kin apparently, thousands of miles from home. Not once during th_eremony did the two look at each other, but riveted their gaze upon the lip_f the man who was forging the bands: gazed intensively, as if they feared th_orld might vanish before the last word of the ceremony was spoken.
  • Spurlock relaxed, suddenly, and sank deeply into his pillows. Ruth felt hi_and grow cold as it slipped from hers. She bent down.
  • "You are all right?"—anxiously.
  • "Yes … but dreadfully tired."
  • Mrs. Dolby smiled. It was the moment for smiles. She approached Ruth with ope_rms; and something in the way the child came into that kindly embrace hur_he older woman to the point of tears.
  • These passers-by who touch us but lightly and are gone, leaving the eterna_mprint! So long as she lived, Ruth would always remember that embrace. It wa_arm, shielding, comforting, and what was more, full of understanding. It wa_n fact the first embrace of motherhood she had ever known. Even after thi_oman had gone, it seemed to Ruth that the room was kindlier than it had eve_een.
  • Inexplicably there flashed into vision the Chinese wedding procession in th_arrow, twisted streets of the city, that first day: the gorgeous palanquin, the tom-toms, the weird music, the ribald, jeering mob that trailed alon_ehind. It was surely odd that her thought should pick up that picture an_ecast it so vividly.
  • At half after five that afternoon the doctor and his friend McClintock entere_he 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 b_n her way east and the boy see-sawing the South China Sea, for ever moving a_bsolute angles.
  • "Then you haven't heard?"
  • "Of what?"
  • "Well, well!" cried the manager, delighted at the idea of surprising th_octor. "Miss Enschede and Mr. Spurlock—for that's his real name—were marrie_t high noon."
  • Emptiness; that was the doctor's initial sensation: his vitals had bee_hisked out of him and the earth from under his feet. All his interest i_uth, all his care and solicitude, could now be translated into a singl_ord—love. Wanted her out of the way because he had been afraid of her, afrai_f himself! He, at fifty-four! Then into this void poured a flaming anger, _lind and unreasoning anger. He took the first step toward the stairs, and me_he 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 realize_hat she has done than a child of eight. Marriage! … without the leas_onception of the physical and moral responsibilities! It's a crime, Mac!"
  • "But what can you do?" McClintock turned to the manager. "'It was al_erfectly legal?
  • "My word for it. The Reverend Henry Dolby performed the cermony, and his wif_nd 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 n_eason why the whole hotel should."
  • The doctor relaxed. "I've got to see him; but I'll be reasonable. I've got t_now 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 m_ore. A married man!—the kind I've never been able to lure down there! Bu_eep your temper in check. Don't lay it all to the boy. The girl is in it a_eeply as he is. I'll wait for you down here."
  • When the doctor entered the bedroom and looked into the faces of the culprits, he laughed brokenly. Two children, who had been caught in the jam-closet: ingratiating smiles, back of which lay doubt and fear.
  • Ruth came to him directly. "You are angry?"
  • "Very. You don't realize what you have done."
  • "My courage gave out. The thought of going back!—the thought of the unknow_ut there!—" with a tragic gesture toward the east. "I couldn't go on!"
  • "You'll need something more than courage now. But no more of that. What i_one cannot be undone. I want to talk to Mr. Spurlock. Will you leave us for _ew minutes?"
  • "You are not going to be harsh?"
  • "I wish to talk about the future."
  • "Very well."
  • She departed reluctantly. The doctor walked over to the bed, folded his arm_cross his chest and stared down into the unabashed eyes of his patient.
  • "Do you realize that you are several kinds of a damned scoundrel?" he began.
  • This did not affect Spurlock. "Your name is Spurlock?"
  • "It is."
  • "Why did you use the name of Taber?"
  • "To keep my real name out of the mess I expected to make of myself over here."
  • "That's frank enough," the doctor admitted astonishedly. So far the boy's min_as clear. "But to drag this innocent child into the muck! With her head ful_f book nonsense—love stories and fairy stories! Have you any idea of th_ragedy she is bound to stumble upon some day? I don't care about you. Th_orld is known to you. I can see that you were somebody, in another day. Bu_his child! … It's a damnable business!"
  • "I shall defend her and protect her with every drop of blood in my body!"
  • replied the Flagellant.
  • The intensity of the eyes and the defiant tone bewildered the doctor, wh_ound his well-constructed jeremiad without a platform. So he was forced t_hift and proceed at another angle, forgetting his promise to McClintock to b_emperate.
  • "When I went through your trunk that first night, I discovered an envelop_illed with manuscripts. Later, at the bottom of that envelope I found _etter."
  • "To be opened in case of my death," added Spurlock. From under his pillow h_ragged forth the key to the trunk. "Here, take this and get the letter an_pen and read it. Would you tell her … now?" his eyes flaming with mockery.