“Perhaps that was it. I always wondered why he bought my mother’s pearls so readily. I am dreadfully sad.”
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll speak to McClintock to-night and see if he won’t take us for a junket on The Tigress. Eh? Banging against the old rollers—that’ll put some life into us both. Run along while I rig up and get the part in my hair straight.”
“If he had only been my father!—McClintock!”
“God didn’t standardize human beings, Ruth; no grain of wheat is like another. See the new litter of Mrs. Pig? By George, every one of them looks like the other; and yet each one attacks the source of supply with a squeal and an oof that’s entirely different from his brothers’ and sisters’. Put on that new dress—the one that’s all white. We’ll celebrate that check, and let the rest of the world go hang.”
“You are very good to me, Hoddy.”
Something reached down into his heart and twisted it. But he held the smile until she turned away from the curtain. He dressed mechanically; so many moves this way, so many moves that. The evening breeze came; the bamboo shades on the veranda clicked and rasped; the loose edges of the manuscript curled. To prevent the leaves from blowing about, should a blow develop, he distributed paper weights. Still unconscious of anything he did physically.
He tried not to think—of Ruth with her mother’s locket, of her misguided father, taking his lonely way to sea. He drew compellingly upon his new characters to keep him out of this melancholy channel; but they ebbed and ebbed; he could not hold them. Enschede: no human emotion should ever again shuttle between him and God. As if God would not continue to mock him so long as his brain held a human thought! God had given him a pearl without price, and he had misunderstood until this day.
McClintock was in a gay mood at dinner that night; but he did not see fit to give these children the true reason. For a long time there had been a standing offer from the company at Copeley’s to take over the McClintock plantation; and to-day he had decided to sell. Why? Because he knew that when these two young people left, the island would become intolerable. For nearly thirty years he had lived here in contented loneliness; then youth had to come and fill him with discontent.
He would give The Tigress a triple coat of paint, and take these two on a long cruise, wherever they wanted to go—Roundhead and Seraph, the blunderbus and the flaming angel. And there was another matter. To have sprung this upon them to-night would have been worth a thousand pounds. But his lips were honour-locked.
There was a pint of champagne and a quart of mineral water (both taboo) at his elbow. In a tall glass the rind of a Syrian orange was arranged in spiral form. The wine bubbled and seethed; and the exquisite bouquet of oranges permeated the room.
“I sha’n’t offer any of these to you two,” he said; “but I know you won’t mind me having an imitation king’s peg. The occasion is worth a dash of the grape, lad. You’re on the way to big things. A thousand dollars is a lot of money for an author to earn.”