The clock tinkled ten. Shortly Ruth and Spurlock took the way home. They walked in silence. With a finger crooked in his side-pocket, she measured her step with his, her senses still dizzy from the echo of the magic sounds. At the threshold of the study he bade her good-night; but he did not touch her forehead with his lips.
“I feel like work,” he lied. What he wanted desperately was to be alone.
“But you are tired!”
“I want to go over the story again.”
“Mr. McClintock liked it.”
“He couldn’t help it, Ruth. It’s big, thanks to you.”
“You.... need me a little?”
“Not a little, but a great deal.”
That satisfied something of her undefined hunger. She went to her bedroom, but she did not go to bed. She drew a chair to the window and stared at the splendour of the tropical night. By and by she heard the screen door. Hollo rumbled in his throat.
“Hush!” she said.
Presently she saw Spurlock on the way to the lagoon. He walked with bent head. After quarter of an hour, she followed.
The unexpected twist—his disclosure to McClintock—had given Spurlock but temporary relief. The problem had returned, made gigantic by the possibility of Ruth’s love. The thought allured him, and therein lay the danger. If it were but the question of his reason for marrying her, the solution would have been simple. But he was a thief, a fugitive from justice. On that basis alone, he had no right to give or accept love.
Had he been sick in the mind when he had done this damnable thing? It did not seem possible, for he could recall clearly all he had said and done; there were no blank spaces to give him one straw of excuse.
Ruth loved him. It was perfectly logical. And he could not return this love. He must fight the thought continually, day in and day out. The Dawn Pearl! To be with her constantly, with no diversions to serve as barricades! Damn McClintock for putting this thought in his head—that Ruth loved him!
He flung himself upon the beach, face downward, his outflung hands digging into the sand: which was oddly like his problem—he could not grip it. Torment!
And so Ruth discovered him. She was about to rush to his side, when she saw his clenched hands rise and fall upon the sand repeatedly. Her heart swelled to suffocation. To go to him, to console him! But she stirred not from her hiding place. Instinctively she knew—some human recollection she had inherited—that she must not disturb him in this man-agony. She could not go to him when it was apparent that he needed her beyond all other instances! What had caused this agony did not matter—then. It was enough that she witnessed it and could not go to him.
By and by—as the paroxysm subsided and he became motionless—she stole back to the bungalow to wait. Through her door curtain she could see the light from the study lamp. If, when he returned, he blew out the light, she would go to bed; but if the light burned on for any length of time, she would go silently to the study curtain to learn if his agony was still upon him. She heard him come in; the light burned on.