The doctor reached for the key and studied it sombrely. The act wa_echanical, a bit of sparring for time: his anger was searching about for _ew vent. He was a just man, and he did not care to start any thunder whic_as not based upon fairness. He had no wish to go foraging in Spurlock'_runk. He had already shown the covering envelope and its instructions t_uth, and she had ignored or misunderstood the warning. The boy was right.
Ruth could not be told now. There would be ultimate misery, but it would b_eedless cruelty to give her a push toward it. But all these hours, trying t_each the child wariness toward life, and the moment his back was turned, this!
He was, perhaps, still dazed by the inner revelation—his own interest in Ruth.
The haste to send her upon her way now had but one interpretation—th_ecognition of his own immediate danger, the fear that if this tende_ssociation continued, he would end in offering her a calamity quite a_mpossible as that which had happened—the love of a man who was in al_robability older than her father! The hurt was no less intensive because i_as so ridiculous.
He would talk to Spurlock, but from the bench; as a judge, not as a chagrine_over. He dropped the key on the counterpane.
"If I could only make you realize what you have done," he said, lamely.
"I know exactly what I have done," replied Spurlock. "She is my lawful wife."
"I should have opened that letter in the beginning," said the doctor. "But _appen to be an honest man myself. Had you died, I should have fully obeye_he instructions on that envelope. You will make her suffer."
"For every hurt she has, I shall have two. I did not lay any traps for her. _sked her to marry me, and she consented."
"Ah, yes; that's all very well. But when she learns that you are a fugitiv_rom justice…."
"What proof have you that I am?"—was the return bolt.
"A knowledge of the ways of men. I don't know what you have done; I don't wan_o know now. But God will punish you for what you have done this day."
"As for that, I don't say. But I shall take care of Ruth, work for her an_ight for her." A prophecy which was to be fulfilled in a singular way. "Give_ chance, I can make bread and butter. I'm no mollycoddle. I have only on_uestion to ask you."
"And what might that be?"
"Will McClintock take us both?"
"You took that chance. There has never been a white woman at McClintock's."
He paused, and not without malice. He was human. The pause lengthened, and h_ad the satisfaction of seeing despair melt the set mockery of Spurlock'_outh.
"You begin to have doubts, eh? A handful of money between you, and nothin_lse. There are only a few jobs over here for a man of your type; and eve_hese are more or less hopeless if you haven't trained mechanical ability."
Then he became merciful. "But McClintock agrees to take you both—because he'_s big a fool as I am. But I give you this warning, and let it sink in. Yo_ill be under the eye of the best friend I have; and if you do not treat tha_hild for what she is—an innocent angel—I promise to hunt you across the wid_orld and kill you with bare hands."
Spurlock's glance shot up, flaming again. "And on my part, I shall not lift _and to defend myself."
"I wish I could have foreseen."
"That is to say, you wish you had let me die?"
"That was the thought."
This frankness rather subdued Spurlock. His shoulders relaxed and his gaz_avered. "Perhaps that would have been best."
"But what, in God's name, possessed you? You have already wrecked your ow_ife and now you've wrecked hers. She doesn't love you; she hasn't the leas_dea what it means beyond what she has read in novels. The world isn't rea_et; she hasn't comparisons by which to govern her acts. I am a physicia_irst, which gives the man in me a secondary part. You have just passe_hrough rather a severe physical struggle; just as previously to your collaps_ou had gone through some terrific mental strain. Your mind is still subtl_ick. The man in me would like to break every bone in your body, but th_hysician understands that you don't actually realize what you have done. Bu_n a little while you will awake; and if there is a spark of manhood in you, you will be horrified at this day's work."
Spurlock closed his eyes. Expiation. He felt the first sting of the whip. Bu_here was no feeling of remorse; there was only the sensation of exaltation.
"If you two loved each other," went on the doctor, "there would be somethin_o stand on—a reason why for this madness. I can fairly understand Ruth; bu_ou…!"
"Have you ever been so lonely that the soul of you cried in anguish? Twenty- four hours a day to think in, alone?… Perhaps I did not want to go mad fro_oneliness. I will tell you this much, because you have been kind. It is tru_hat I do not love Ruth; but I swear to you, before the God of my fathers, that she shall never know it!"
"I'll be getting along." The doctor ran his fingers through his hair, despairingly. "A hell of a muddle! But all the talk in the world can't und_t. I'll put you aboard _The Tigress_ to-morrow after sundown. But remember m_arning, and play the game!"
Spurlock closed his eyes again. The doctor turned quickly and made for th_oor, which he opened and shut gently because he was assured that Ruth wa_istening across the hall for any sign of violence. He had nothing more to sa_ither to her or to Spurlock. All the king's horses and all the king's me_ould not undo what was done; nor kill the strange exquisite flower that ha_rown up in his own lonely heart.
Opals. He wondered if, after all, McClintock wasn't nearest the truth, tha_uth was one of those unfortunate yet innocent women who make havoc with th_earts of men.
Marriage!—and no woman by to tell the child what it was! The shocks an_isillusions she would have to meet unsuspectingly—and bitterly. Unless ther_as some real metal in the young fool, some hidden strength with which t_reast the current, Ruth would become a millstone around his neck and soon h_ould become to her an object of pity and contempt.
There was once a philanthropist who dressed with shameful shabbiness an_arried pearls in his pocket. The picture might easily apply to _The Tigress_ : outwardly disreputable, but richly and comfortably appointed below. Th_lush deck was without wells. The wheel and the navigating instruments wer_ternward, under a spread of heavy canvas, a protection against rain and sun.
Amidship there was also canvas, and like that over the wheel, drab and dirty.
The dining saloon was done in mahogany and sandalwood, with eight cabins, fou_o port and four to starboard. The bed-and table-linen were of the fines_exture. From the centre of the ceiling hung a replica of the temple lamp i_he Taj Mahal. The odour of coconut prevailed, delicately but abidingly; for, save for the occasioned pleasure junket, _The Tigress_ was a copra carrier, shell and fibre.
McClintock's was a plantation of ten thousand palms, yielding him annuall_bout half a million nuts. Natives brought him an equal amount from th_eighbouring islands. As the palm bears nuts perennially, there were alway_oconut-laden proas making the beach. Thus, McClintock carried to Copeley'_ress about half a million pounds of copra. There was a very substantia_rofit in the transaction, for he paid the natives in commodities—coloure_otton cloths, pipes and tobacco, guns and ammunition, household utensils, cutlery and glass gewgaws. It was perfectly legitimate. Money was no_ecessary; indeed, it would have embarrassed all concerned.. A native sold hi_upply of nuts in exchange for cloth, tobacco and so forth. In the South Seas, money is the eliminated middleman.
Where the islands are grouped, men discard the use of geographical names an_imply refer to "McClintock's" or "Copeley's," to the logical dictator of thi_r that island.
* * * * *
At sundown Spurlock was brought aboard and put into cabin 2, while Ruth wa_ssigned to cabin 4, adjoining. From the Sha-mien to the yacht, Spurlock ha_ttered no word; though, even in the semi-darkness, no gesture or word o_uth's escaped him.
Now that she was his, to make or mar, she presented an extraordinar_ascination. She had suddenly become as the jewels of the Madonna, as th_dol's eye, infinitely beyond his reach, sacred. He could not pull her sou_part now to satisfy that queer absorbing, delving thing which was hi_iterary curiosity; he had put her outside that circle. His lawful wife; bu_othing more; beyond that she was only an idea, a trust.
An incredible road he had elected to travel; he granted that it wa_ncredible; and along this road somewhere would be Desire. There were menacin_ossibilities; the thought of them set him a-tremble. What would happen whe_onfronted by the actual? He was young; she was also young and physicall_eautiful—his lawful wife. He had put himself before the threshold o_amnation; for Ruth was now a vestal in the temple. Such was the condition o_is mind that the danger exhilarated rather than depressed him. Here would b_he true test of his strength. Upon this island whither he was bound ther_ould be no diversions, breathing spells; the battle would be constant.
All at once it came to him what a fool he was to worry over this phase whic_as wholly suppositional. He did not love Ruth. They would be partners only i_oneliness. He would provide the necessities of life and protect her. He woul_each her all he knew of life so that if the Hand should ever reach hi_houlder, she would be able to defend herself. He was always anticipating, stepping into the future, torturing himself with non-existent troubles. Thes_ogitations were interrupted by the entrance of the doctor.
"Good-bye, young man; and good luck."
"You are offering your hand to me?"
"Without reservations." The doctor gave Spurlock's hand a friendly pressure.
"Buck up! While there's life there's hope. Play fair with her. You don't kno_hat you have got; I do. Let her have her own way in all things, for she wil_lways be just."
Spurlock turned aside his head as he replied: "Words are sometimes useles_hings. I might utter a million, and still I doubt if I could make yo_nderstand."
"Probably not. The thing is done. The main idea now is of the future. You wil_ave lots of time on your hands. Get out your pad and pencil. Go to it. Rut_ill be a gold mine for a man of your peculiar bent."
"You read those yarns?" Spurlock's head came about, and there was eagerness i_is eyes. "Rot, weren't they?"
"No. You have the gift of words, but you haven't started to create yet. Go t_t; and the best of luck!"
He went out. This farewell had been particularly distasteful to him. There wa_till in his heart that fierce anger which demands physical expression; but h_ad to consider Ruth in all phases. He proceeded to the deck, where Ruth an_cClintock were waiting for him by the ladder. He handed Ruth a letter.
"What is this?" she wanted to know.
"A hundred dollars which was left from your husband's money."
"Would you be angry if I offered it to you?"
"Very. Don't worry about me."
"You are the kindest man I have ever known," said Ruth, unashamed of he_ears. "I have hurt you because I would not trust you. It is useless to talk.
I could never make you understand."
Almost the identical words of the boy. "Will you write," asked the doctor,
"and tell me how you are getting along?"
"The last advice I can give you is this: excite his imagination; get hi_tarted with his writing. Remember, some day you and I are going to have tha_ook." He patted her hand. "Good-bye, Mac. Don't forget to cut out al_ffervescent water. If you will have your peg, take it with plain water.
You'll be along next spring?"
"If the old tub will float. I'll watch over these infants, if that's you_orry. Good-bye."
The doctor went down the side to the waiting sampan, which at once set out fo_he Sha-mien. Through a blur of tears Ruth followed the rocking light until i_anished. One more passer-by; and always would she remember his patience an_enderness and disinterestedness. She was quite assured that she would neve_ee him again.
"Yon's a dear man," said McClintock. His natal burr was always in evidenc_hen he was sentimentally affected. He knocked his pipe on the teak rail.
"Took a great fancy to you. Wants me to look out for you a bit. I take it, down where we're going will be nothing new to you. But I've stacks of book_nd a grand piano-player."
"Piano-player? Do you mean someone who plays for you?"
"No, no; one of those mechanical things you play with your feet. Play_eethoven, Rubenstein and all those chaps. I'm a bit daffy about music."
"That sounds funny … to play it with your feet!"
McClintock laughed. "It's a pump, like an organ."
"Oh, I see. What a wonderful world it is!" Music. She shuddered.
"Ay. Well, I'll be getting this tub under way."
Ruth walked to the companion. It was one of those old sliding trap affairs, narrow and steep of descent. She went down, feeling rather than seeing th_ay. The door of cabin 2 was open. Someone had thoughtfully wrapped a bit o_issue paper round the electric bulb.
She did not enter the cabin at once, but paused on the threshold and stared a_he silent, recumbent figure in the bunk. In the subdued light she could no_ell whether he was asleep or awake. Never again to be alone! To fit hersel_nto this man's life as a hand into a glove; to use all her skill to force hi_nto the position of depending upon her utterly; to be the spark to the divin_ire! He should have his book, even if it had to be written with her heart'_lood.
What she did not know, and what she was never to know, was that the divin_ire was hers.
"Ruth?" he called.
She entered and approached the bunk. "I thought you were asleep. Is ther_nything you want?" She laid her hand on his forehead, and found it withou_ever. She had worried in fear that the excitement would be too much for him.
"Call me Hoddy. That is what my mother used to call me."
"Hoddy," she repeated. "I shall like to call you that. But now you must b_uiet; there's been too much excitement. Knock on the partition if you wan_nything during the might. I awaken easily. Good night!" She pressed his han_nd went out.
For a long time he stared at the empty doorway. He heard the panting of th_onkey-engine, then the slithering of the anchor chains. Presently he fel_otion. He chuckled. The vast ironic humour of it: he was starting on hi_oneymoon!