And here he was, but a hundred yards away, this wastrel who trailed his genius through the mud. Hoddy! All her fears fell away. Between herself and yonder evil mind she had the strongest buckler God could give—love. Hoddy. No other man should touch her; she was Hoddy’s, body and soul, in this life and after.
She turned into the study, sat down at the table and fingered the pencils, curiously stirred. Lead, worth nothing at all until Hoddy picked them up; then they became full of magic. She began to read, and presently she entered another world, and remained in it for two hours. She read on and on, now thrilled by the swiftly moving drama, now enraptured by the tender passages of love. Love.... He could imagine it even if he could not feel it. That was the true miracle of the gift; without actual experience, to imagine love and hate and greed and how they would react upon each other; and then, when these passions had served their temporary purpose, to cast them aside for new imaginings.
She heard the bamboo curtain rattle slightly. She looked up quickly. The Wastrel, his eyes full of humorous evil, stood inside the room.
His idea, cleverly planned, was to shatter her resistance, to confound her suddenly by striking her mind with words which would rob her coherent thought. Everything in his favour—the luck of the gods! The only white men were miles down the coast. She might scream until her voice failed; the natives would not come to her aid; they never meddled with the affairs of the whites.
“It is droll,” he said. “Your father—poor imbecile!—believes we ran away together. I arranged that he should. So that way is closed. You never can go back.”
There was a roaring in her ears like that of angry waters. Wanton!... This, then, was what her father had meant. And he had gone away without knowing the truth!
“My proa boys are ready; the wind is brisk; and in an hour we shall be beyond all pursuit. Will you come sensibly, or shall I carry you? You are mine!”
Ruth’s peculiar education had not vitiated the primitive senses; they were always on guard; and in a moment such as this they rushed instantly to the surface. Danger, the most terrible she had ever faced, was substantially in this room. She must kill this man, or kill herself. She knew it. No tricks would serve. There would be no mercy in this man. Any natural fineness would be numbed by drink. To-morrow he might be sorry; but to-day, this hour!
She rose, not quickly, but with a dignity which only accentuated her beauty.
“And you ran away with a weakling! You denied me for a puppet!”
“My lawful husband.”
“Ah, yes, yes; lawful husbands in these parts are those who can take and hold.... As I shall take and hold.” The Wastrel advanced.
“If you touch me I will kill you,” said Ruth, grasping the scissors which lay beside the pencils—Hoddy’s!