Spurlock pushed back his helmet and sat down in the white sand, buckling hi_nees and folding his arms around them—pondering. Was he really awake? Th_rrival and departure of this strange father lacked the essential human touc_o make it real. Without a struggle he could give up his flesh and blood lik_hat! "I can now give myself to God utterly; no human emotion will ever b_huttling in between." The mortal agony behind those eyes! And all the whil_e had probably loved his child. To take Spring and Love out of her life, a_f there were no human instincts to tell Ruth what was being denied her! An_hat must have been the man's thought as he came upon Ruth wearing a gown o_er mother's?—a fair picture of the mother in the primrose days? Not a flicke_f an eyelash; steel and granite outwardly.
The conceit of Howard Spurlock in imagining he knew what mental suffering was!
But Enschede was right: Ruth must never know. To find the true father at th_xpense of the beautiful fairy tale Ruth had woven around the woman in th_ocket was an intolerable thought. But the father, to go his way foreve_lone! The iron in the man!—the iron in this child of his!
Wanting a little love, a caress now and then. Spurlock bent his head to hi_nees. He took into his soul some of the father's misery, some of th_aughter's, to mingle with his own. Enschede, to have starved his heart a_ell as Ruth's because, having laid a curse, he knew not how to turn asid_rom it! How easily he might have forgotten the unworthy mother in the love o_he child! And this day to hear her voice lifted in a quality of anathema.
Poor Ruth: for a father, a madman; for a husband—a thief!
Spurlock rocked his body slightly. He knew that at this moment Ruth lay upo_er bed in torment, for she was by nature tender; and the reaction of he_cathing words, no matter how justifiable, would be putting scars on her soul.
And he, her lawful husband, dared not go to her and console her! Accursed—al_f them—Enschede, Ruth, and himself.
"What's the matter, lad, after all the wonderful fireworks at lunch?"
Spurlock beheld McClintock standing beside him. He waved a hand toward th_ea.
"A sail?" said McClintock. "What about it?"
"Enschede?—her father? What's happened?" McClintock sat down. "Do you mean t_ell me he's come and gone in an hour? What the devil kind of a father is he?"
Spurlock shook his head.
"What's become of Ruth?"
"Gone to her room."
"Come, lad; let's have it," said McClintock. "Anything that concerns Ruth i_f interest to me. What happened between Ruth and her father that made hi_urry off without passing ordinary courtesies with me?"
"I suppose I ought to tell you," said Spurlock; "but it is understood tha_uth shall never know the truth."
"Not if it will hurt her."
"Hurt her? It would tear her to pieces; God knows she has had enough. He_other…. Do you recall the night she showed you the face in the locket? Do yo_emember how she said—'If only my mother had lived'? Did you ever see anythin_ore tender or beautiful?"
"I remember. Go on and tell me."
When Spurlock had finished the tale, touched here and there by his ow_magination, McClintock made a negative sign.
"So that was it? And what the devil are you doing here, moping alone on th_each? Why aren't you with her in this hour of bitterness?"
"What can I do?"
"You can go to her and take her in your arms."
"I might have been able to do that if you hadn't told me … she cared."
"Man, she's your wife!"
"And I am a thief."
"You're a damn fool, too!" exploded the trader.
"I am as God made me."
"No. God gives us an equal chance; but we make ourselves. You are captain o_our soul; don't forget your Henley. But I see now. That poor child, trying t_scape, and not knowing how. Her father for fifteen years, and you now for th_est of her life! Tell her you're a thief. Get it off your soul."
"Add that to what she is now suffering? It's too late. She would not forgiv_e."
"And why should you care whether she forgave you or not?"
Spurlock jumped to his feet, the look of the damned upon his face. "Why?
Because I love her! Because I loved her at the start, but was too big a foo_o know it!"
His own astonishment was quite equal to McClintock's. The latter began t_eave himself up from the sand.
"Did I hear you …" began McClintock.
"Yes!" interrupted Spurlock, savagely. "You heard me say it! It wa_nevitable. I might have known it. Another labyrinth in hell!"
A smile broke over the trader's face. It began in the eyes and spread to th_ips: warm, embracing, even fatherly.
"Man, man! You're coming to life. There's something human about you now. Go t_er and tell her. Put your arms around her and tell her you love her. Dea_od, what a beautiful moment!"
The fire went out of Spurlock's eyes and the shadow of hopeless weariness fel_pon him. "I can't make you understand; I can't make you see things as I se_hem. As matters now stand, I'm only a thief, not a blackguard. What!—ad_nother drop to her cup? Who knows? Any day they may find me. So long a_atters remain as they are, and they found me, there would be no shame fo_uth. Can't I make you see?"
"But I'm telling you Ruth loves you. And her kind of love forgives everythin_nd anything but infidelity."
"You did not hear her when she spoke to her father; I did."
"But she would understand you; whereas she will never understand her father.
Spurlock: 'tis Roundhead, sure enough. Go to her, I say, and take her in you_rms, you poor benighted Ironsides! I can't make _you_ see. Man, if you tel_er you love her, and later they took you away to prison, who would sit at th_rison gate until your term was up? Ruth. Why am I here—thirty years o_oneliness? Because I know women, the good and the bad; and because I coul_ot have the good, I would not take the bad. The woman I wanted was anothe_an's wife. So here I am, king of all I survey, with a predilection for poker, a scorched liver, and a piano-player. But you! Ruth is your lawful wife. No_o go to her is wickeder than if I had run away with my friend's wife. You'r_ queer lad. With your pencil you see into the hearts of all; and without you_encil you are dumb and blind. Ruth is not another man's wife; she is all you_wn, for better or for worse. Have you thought of the monstrous lie you ar_dding to your theft?"
"Lie?" said Spurlock, astounded.
"Aye—to pretend to her that you don't care. That's a most damnable lie; an_hen she finds out, 'tis then she will not forgive. She'll have this hou_lways with her; and you failed her. Go to her."
This simple admission disarmed McClintock. "Well, well; I have given out of m_isdom. I'd like to shake you until your bones rattled; but the bones of _oundhead wouldn't rattle to any purpose. Lad, I admire you even in you_olly. Mountains out of molehills and armies out of windmills; and you'll tir_ourself in one direction and shatter yourself in the other. There is strengt_n you—misguided. You will torture yourself and torture her all through life; but in the end she will pour the wine of her faith into a sound chalice. _ould that you were my own."
"I, a thief?"
"Aye; thief, Roundhead and all. If a certain kink in your sense of honour wil_ot permit you to go to her as a lover, go to her as a comrade. Talk to her o_he new story; divert her; for this day her heart has been twisted sorely."
McClintock without further speech strode toward his bungalow; and half an hou_ater Spurlock, passing, heard the piano-tuning key at work.
Spurlock plodded through the heavy sand, leaden in the heart and mind as wel_s in the feet. But recently he had asked God to pile it all on him; and Go_ad added this, with a fresh portion for Ruth. One thing—he could be thankfu_or that—the peak of his misfortunes had been reached; the world might come t_n end now and not matter in the least.
Love … to take her in his arms and to comfort her: and then to add to her cu_f bitterness the knowledge that her husband was a thief! For himself he di_ot care; God could continue to grind and pulverize him; but to add anothe_rain to the evil he had already wrought upon Ruth was unthinkable. Th_uture? He dared not speculate upon that.
He paused at the bamboo curtain of her room, which was in semi-darkness. H_eard Rollo's stump beat a gentle tattoo on the floor.
Silence for a moment. "Yes. What is it?"
"Is there anything I can do?" The idiocy of the question filled him with th_raving of laughter. Was there anything he could do!
"No, Hoddy; nothing."
"Would you like to have me come in and talk?" How tender that sounded!—talk!
"If you want to."
Bamboo and bead tinkled and slithered behind him. The dusky obscurity of th_oom was twice welcome. He did not want Ruth to see his own stricke_ountenance; nor did he care to see hers, ravaged by tears. He knew she ha_een weeping. He drew a chair to the side of the bed and sat down, terrifie_y the utter fallowness of his mind. Filled as he was with conflictin_motions, any stretch of silence would be dangerous. The fascination of th_dea of throwing himself upon his knees and crying out all that was in hi_eart! As his eyes began to focus objects, he saw one of her arms extende_pon the counterpane, in his direction, the hand clenched tightly.
"I am very wicked," she said. "After all, he is my father, Hoddy; and I curse_im. But all those empty years!… My heart was hot. I'm sorry. I do forgiv_im; but he will never know now."
"Write him," urged Spurlock, finding speech.
"He would return my letters unopened or destroy them."
That was true, thought Spurlock. No matter what happened, whether the roa_moothed out or became still rougher, he would always be carrying this secre_ith him; and each time he recalled it, the rack.
"Would you rather be alone?"
"No. It's kind of comforting to have you there. You understand. I sha'n't cr_ny more. Tell me a story—with apple-blossoms in it—about people who ar_appy."
Miserably his thoughts shuttled to and fro in search of what he knew sh_anted—a love story. Presently he began to weave a tale, sorry enough, wit_ll the ancient claptraps and rusted platitudes. How long he sat there, reeling off this drivel, he never knew. When he reached the happy ending, h_aited. But there was no sign from her. By and by he gathered enough courag_o lean toward her. She had fallen asleep. The hand that had been clenched la_pen, relaxed; and upon the palm he saw her mother's locket.