She discovered him sitting upon the floor beside his open trunk. He had something across his knees. At first she could not tell what it was; but as her eyes became accustomed to the light, she recognized the old coat.
Next morning Ruth did not refer to the episode on the sands of the lagoon. Here again instinct guided her. If he had nothing to tell her, she had nothing to ask. She did not want particularly to know what had caused his agony, what had driven him back to the old coat. He was in trouble and she could not help him; that was the ache in her heart.
At breakfast both of them played their parts skillfully. There was nothing in his manner to suggest the misery of the preceding night. There was nothing on her face to hint of the misery that brimmed her heart this morning. So they fenced with smiles.
He noted that she was fully dressed, that her hair was carefully done, that there was a knotted ribbon around her throat. It now occurred to him that she had always been fully dressed. He did not know—and probably never would unless she told him—that it was very easy (and comfortable for a woman) to fall into slatternly ways in this latitude. So long as she could remember, her father had never permitted her to sit at the table unless she came fully dressed. Later, she understood his reasons; and it had now become habit.
Fascination. It would be difficult to find another human being subjected to so many angles of attack as Spurlock. Ruth loved him. This did not tickle his vanity; on the contrary, it enlivened his terror, which is a phase of fascination. She loved him. That held his thought as the magnet holds the needle, inescapably. The mortal youth in him, then, was fascinated, the thinker, the poet; from all sides Ruth attacked him, innocently. The novel danger of the situation enthralled him. He saw himself retreating from barricade to barricade, Ruth always advancing, perfectly oblivious of the terror she inspired.
While he was stirring his tea, she ran and fetched the comb. She attacked his hair resolutely. He laughed to hide his uneasiness. The touch of her hands was pleasurable.
“The part was crooked,” she explained.
“I don’t believe McClintock would have gone into convulsions at the sight of it. Anyhow, ten minutes after I get to work I’ll be rumpling it.”
“That isn’t the point, Hoddy. You don’t notice the heat; but it is always there, pressing down. You must always shave and part your hair straight. It doesn’t matter that you deal with black people. It isn’t for their sakes, it’s for your own. Mr. McClintock does it; and he knows why. In the morning and at night he is dressed as he would dress in the big hotels. In the afternoon he probably loafs in his pajamas. You can, too, if you wish..”
“All right, teacher; I’ll shave and comb my hair.” He rose for fear she might touch him again.