When the doctor entered the bedroom and looked into the faces of the culprits, he laughed brokenly. Two children, who had been caught in the jam-closet: ingratiating smiles, back of which lay doubt and fear.
Ruth came to him directly. “You are angry?”
“Very. You don’t realize what you have done.”
“My courage gave out. The thought of going back!—the thought of the unknown out there!—” with a tragic gesture toward the east. “I couldn’t go on!”
“You’ll need something more than courage now. But no more of that. What is done cannot be undone. I want to talk to Mr. Spurlock. Will you leave us for a few minutes?”
“You are not going to be harsh?”
“I wish to talk about the future.”
She departed reluctantly. The doctor walked over to the bed, folded his arms across his chest and stared down into the unabashed eyes of his patient.
“Do you realize that you are several kinds of a damned scoundrel?” he began. This did not affect Spurlock. “Your name is Spurlock?”
“Why did you use the name of Taber?”
“To keep my real name out of the mess I expected to make of myself over here.”
“That’s frank enough,” the doctor admitted astonishedly. So far the boy’s mind was clear. “But to drag this innocent child into the muck! With her head full of book nonsense—love stories and fairy stories! Have you any idea of the tragedy she is bound to stumble upon some day? I don’t care about you. The world is known to you. I can see that you were somebody, in another day. But this child! ... It’s a damnable business!”
“I shall defend her and protect her with every drop of blood in my body!” replied the Flagellant.
The intensity of the eyes and the defiant tone bewildered the doctor, who found his well-constructed jeremiad without a platform. So he was forced to shift and proceed at another angle, forgetting his promise to McClintock to be temperate.
“When I went through your trunk that first night, I discovered an envelope filled with manuscripts. Later, at the bottom of that envelope I found a letter.”
“To be opened in case of my death,” added Spurlock. From under his pillow he dragged forth the key to the trunk. “Here, take this and get the letter and open and read it. Would you tell her ... now?” his eyes flaming with mockery.
The doctor reached for the key and studied it sombrely. The act was mechanical, a bit of sparring for time: his anger was searching about for a new vent. He was a just man, and he did not care to start any thunder which was not based upon fairness. He had no wish to go foraging in Spurlock’s trunk. He had already shown the covering envelope and its instructions to Ruth, and she had ignored or misunderstood the warning. The boy was right. Ruth could not be told now. There would be ultimate misery, but it would be needless cruelty to give her a push toward it. But all these hours, trying to teach the child wariness toward life, and the moment his back was turned, this!