Something forbade him to draw her toward him and seal the compact with a kiss. Down under the incalculable selfishness of the penitent child there was the man’s uneasy recollection of Judas. He could not kiss Ruth.
After the Ten Commandments have been spoken, conscience becomes less something inherent than something acquired. It is now a point of view, differing widely, as the ignorant man differs from the educated. You and I will agree upon the Ten Commandments; but perhaps we will refuse to accept the other’s interpretation of the ramifications. I step on my neighbour’s feet, return and apologize because my acquired conscience orders me to do so; whereas you might pass on without caring if your neighbour hopped about on one foot. The inherent conscience keeps most of us away from jail, from court, from the gallows; the acquired conscience helps us to preserve the little amenities of daily life. So then, the acquired is the livelier phase, being driven into action daily; whereas the inherent may lie dormant for months, even years.
To Spurlock, in this hour, his conscience stood over against the Ten Commandments, one of which he had broken. He became primitive, literal in his conception; the ramifications were, for the nonce, fairly relegated to limbo. He could not kiss Ruth because the acquired conscience—struggling on its way to limbo—made the idea repellant. Analysis would come later, when the primitive conscience, satisfied, would cease to dominate his thought and action.
Since morning he had become fanatical; the atoms of common sense no longer functioned in the accustomed groove. And yet he knew clearly and definitely what he purposed to do, what the future would be. This species of madness cannot properly be attributed to his illness, though its accent might be. For a time he would be the grim Protestant Flagellant, pursuing the idea of self-castigation. That he was immolating Ruth on the altar of his conscience never broke in upon his thought for consideration. The fanatic has no such word in his vocabulary.
Ruth had not expected to be kissed; so the omission passed unnoted. For her it was sufficient to know that somebody wanted her, that never again would she be alone, that always this boy with the dreams would be depending upon her.
A strange betrothal!—the primal idea of which was escape! The girl, intent upon abrogating for ever all legal rights of the father in the daughter, of rendering innocuous the thing she had now named the Terror: the boy, seeking self-crucifixion in expiation of his transgression, changing a peccadillo into damnation!
It was easy for Ruth to surrender to the idea, for she believed she was loved; and in gratitude it was already her determination to give this boy her heart’s blood, drop by drop, if he wanted it. To her, marriage would be a buckler against the two evils which pursued her.