Enschede gazed seaward. When he faced Spurlock, the granite was cracked and rived; never had Spurlock seen such dumb agony in human eyes. “What shall I say? Shall I tell you, or shall I leave you in the dark—as I must always leave her? What shall I say except that I am accursed of men? Yes; I have loved something—her mother. Not wisely but too well. I loved her beyond anything in heaven or on earth—to idolatry. God is a jealous God, and He turned upon me relentlessly. I had consecrated my life to His Work; and I took the primrose path.”
“But a man may love his wife!” cried Spurlock, utterly bewildered.
“Not as I loved mine. So, one day, because God was wroth, her mother ran away with a blackguard, and died in the gutter, miserably. Perhaps I’ve been mad all these years; I don’t know. Perhaps I am still mad. But I vowed that Ruth should never suffer the way I did—and do. For I still love her mother. So I undertook to protect her by keeping love out of her life, by crushing it whenever it appeared, obliterating it. I made it a point to bring beachcombers to the house to fill her with horror of mankind. I never let her read stories, or have pets, dolls. Anything that might stir the sense of love And God has mocked me through it all.”
“Man, in God’s name, come with me and tell her this!” urged Spurlock.
“It is too late. Besides, I would tear out my tongue rather than let it speak her mother’s infamy. To tell Ruth anything, it would be necessary to tell her everything; and I cannot and you must not. She was always asking questions about her mother and supplying the answers. So she built a shrine. Always her prayers ended—’And may my beautiful mother guide me!’ No. It is better as it is. She is no longer mine; she is yours.”
“What a mistake!”
“Yes. But you—you have a good face. Be kind to her. Whenever you grow impatient with her, remember the folly of her father. I can now give myself to God utterly; no human emotion will ever be shuttling in between.”
“And all the time you loved her?”—appalled.
Enschede stepped into the proa, and the natives shoved off. Spurlock remained where he was until the sail became an infinitesimal speck in the distance. His throat filled; he wanted to weep. For yonder went the loneliest man in all God’s unhappy world.
Spurlock pushed back his helmet and sat down in the white sand, buckling his knees and folding his arms around them—pondering. Was he really awake? The arrival and departure of this strange father lacked the essential human touch to make it real. Without a struggle he could give up his flesh and blood like that! “I can now give myself to God utterly; no human emotion will ever be shuttling in between.” The mortal agony behind those eyes! And all the while he had probably loved his child. To take Spring and Love out of her life, as if there were no human instincts to tell Ruth what was being denied her! And what must have been the man’s thought as he came upon Ruth wearing a gown of her mother’s?—a fair picture of the mother in the primrose days? Not a flicker of an eyelash; steel and granite outwardly.