“I am very wicked,” she said. “After all, he is my father, Hoddy; and I cursed him. But all those empty years!... My heart was hot. I’m sorry. I do forgive him; 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 road smoothed out or became still rougher, he would always be carrying this secret with 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 cry any more. Tell me a story—with apple-blossoms in it—about people who are happy.”
Miserably his thoughts shuttled to and fro in search of what he knew she wanted—a love story. Presently he began to weave a tale, sorry enough, with all the ancient claptraps and rusted platitudes. How long he sat there, reeling off this drivel, he never knew. When he reached the happy ending, he waited. But there was no sign from her. By and by he gathered enough courage to lean toward her. She had fallen asleep. The hand that had been clenched lay open, relaxed; and upon the palm he saw her mother’s locket.
Spurlock went out on his toes, careful lest the bamboo curtain rattle behind him. He went into the study and sat down at his table, but not to write. He drew out the check and the editorial letter. He had sold half a dozen short tales to third-rate magazines; but this letter had been issued from a distinguished editorial room, of international reputation. If he could keep it up—style and calibre of imagination—within a year the name of Taber would become widely known. Everything in the world to live for!—fame that he could not reap, love that he must not take! What was all this pother about hell as a future state?
By and by things began to stir on the table: little invisible things. The life with which he had endued these sheets of paper began to beckon imperiously. So he sharpened a score of pencils, and after fiddling about and rewriting the last page he had written the previous night, he plunged into work. It was hot and dry. There were mysterious rustlings that made him glance hopefully toward the sea. He was always deceived by these rustlings which promised wind and seldom fulfilled that promise.
“Time to dress for dinner,” said Ruth from behind the curtain. “I don’t see how you do it, Hoddy. It’s so stuffy—and all that tobacco smoke!”
He inspected his watch. Half after six. He was astonished. For four hours he had shifted his own troubles to the shoulders of these imaginative characters.
“He called me a wanton, Hoddy. That is what I don’t understand.”
“There isn’t an angel in heaven, Ruth, purer or sweeter than you are. No doubt—because he did not understand you—he thought you had run away with someone. The trader you spoke about: he disliked your father, didn’t he? Well, he probably played your father a horrible practical joke.”