He was, perhaps, still dazed by the inner revelation—his own interest in Ruth. The haste to send her upon her way now had but one interpretation—the recognition of his own immediate danger, the fear that if this tender association continued, he would end in offering her a calamity quite as impossible as that which had happened—the love of a man who was in all probability older than her father! The hurt was no less intensive because it was so ridiculous.
He would talk to Spurlock, but from the bench; as a judge, not as a chagrined lover. He dropped the key on the counterpane.
“If I could only make you realize what you have done,” he said, lamely.
“I know exactly what I have done,” replied Spurlock. “She is my lawful wife.”
“I should have opened that letter in the beginning,” said the doctor. “But I happen to be an honest man myself. Had you died, I should have fully obeyed the instructions on that envelope. You will make her suffer.”
“For every hurt she has, I shall have two. I did not lay any traps for her. I asked her to marry me, and she consented.”
“Ah, yes; that’s all very well. But when she learns that you are a fugitive from justice....”
“What proof have you that I am?”—was the return bolt.
“A knowledge of the ways of men. I don’t know what you have done; I don’t want to know now. But God will punish you for what you have done this day.”
“As for that, I don’t say. But I shall take care of Ruth, work for her and fight for her.” A prophecy which was to be fulfilled in a singular way. “Given a chance, I can make bread and butter. I’m no mollycoddle. I have only one question to ask you.”
“And what might that be?”
“Will McClintock take us both?”
“You took that chance. There has never been a white woman at McClintock’s.”
He paused, and not without malice. He was human. The pause lengthened, and he had the satisfaction of seeing despair melt the set mockery of Spurlock’s mouth.
“You begin to have doubts, eh? A handful of money between you, and nothing else. There are only a few jobs over here for a man of your type; and even these are more or less hopeless if you haven’t trained mechanical ability.” Then he became merciful. “But McClintock agrees to take you both—because he’s as big a fool as I am. But I give you this warning, and let it sink in. You will be under the eye of the best friend I have; and if you do not treat that child for what she is—an innocent angel—I promise to hunt you across the wide world and kill you with bare hands.”
Spurlock’s glance shot up, flaming again. “And on my part, I shall not lift a hand to defend myself.”
“I wish I could have foreseen.”
“That is to say, you wish you had let me die?”
“That was the thought.”
This frankness rather subdued Spurlock. His shoulders relaxed and his gaze wavered. “Perhaps that would have been best.”