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?"
"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."
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?"
"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.