26. A Noble Offer
That day Harold passed in unutterable gloom. The reaction was strong on him; and all his
woe, his bitter remembrance of the past and his desolation for the future, were with him
In the dusk of the evening he wandered out to his favourite spot, the cable-tank on top of
the aft wheelhouse. Here he had been all alone, and his loneliness had the added
advantage that from the isolated elevation he could see if anyone approached. He had
been out there during the day, and the Captain, who had noticed his habit had had rigged
up a canvas dodger on the rail on the weather side. When he sat down on the coiled
hawsers in the tank he was both secluded and sheltered. In this peaceful corner his
thoughts ran freely and in sympathy with the turmoil of wind and wave.
How unfair it all was! Why had he been singled out for such misery? What gleam of hope
or comfort was left to his miserable life since he had heard the words of Stephen; those
dreadful words which had shattered in an instant all the cherished hopes of his life. Too
well he remembered the tone and look of scorn with which the horrible truths had been
conveyed to him. In his inmost soul he accepted them as truths; Stephen's soul had
framed them and Stephen's lips had sent them forth.
From his position behind the screen he did not see the approaching figure of Mr.
Stonehouse, and was astonished when he saw his head rise above the edge of the tank as
he climbed the straight Jacob's ladder behind the wheelhouse. The elder man paused as he
saw him and said in an apologetic way:
'Will you forgive my intruding on your privacy? I wanted to speak to you alone; and as I
saw you come here a while ago I thought it would be a good opportunity.' Harold was
rising as he spoke.
'By all means. This place is common property. But all the same I am honoured in your
seeking me.' The poor fellow wished to be genial; but despite his efforts there was a
strange formality in the expression of his words. The elder man understood, and said as
he hurried forward and sank beside him:
'Pray don't stir! Why, what a cosy corner this is. I don't believe at this moment there is
such peace in the ship!'
Once again the bitterness of Harold's heart broke out in sudden words:
'I hope not! There is no soul on board to whom I could wish such evil!' The old man said
as he laid his hand softly on the other's shoulder:
'God help you, my poor boy, if such pain is in your heart!' Mr. Stonehouse looked out at
the sea, at last turning his face to him again he spoke: