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 the expense of the beautiful fairy tale Ruth had woven around the woman in the locket was an intolerable thought. But the father, to go his way forever alone! 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 his knees. He took into his soul some of the father’s misery, some of the daughter’s, to mingle with his own. Enschede, to have starved his heart as well as Ruth’s because, having laid a curse, he knew not how to turn aside from it! How easily he might have forgotten the unworthy mother in the love of the 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 upon her bed in torment, for she was by nature tender; and the reaction of her scathing 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—all of 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 the sea.
“A sail?” said McClintock. “What about it?”
“Enschede?—her father? What’s happened?” McClintock sat down. “Do you mean to tell 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 is of interest to me. What happened between Ruth and her father that made him hurry off without passing ordinary courtesies with me?”
“I suppose I ought to tell you,” said Spurlock; “but it is understood that Ruth 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. Her mother.... Do you recall the night she showed you the face in the locket? Do you remember how she said—’If only my mother had lived’? Did you ever see anything more tender or beautiful?”
“I remember. Go on and tell me.”
When Spurlock had finished the tale, touched here and there by his own imagination, McClintock made a negative sign.
“So that was it? And what the devil are you doing here, moping alone on the beach? 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!”