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Chapter 25

  • 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."
  • "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."
  • "I can't."
  • "Afraid?"
  • "Yes."
  • 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.
  • "Ruth?"
  • 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.