27. Age's Wisdom
Harold went to and fro on the deserted deck. All at once the course he had to pursue
opened out before him. He was aware that what the noble-minded old man offered him
was fortune, great fortune in any part of the world. He would have to be refused, but the
refusal should be gently done. He, believing that the other had done something very
wrong, had still offered to share with him his name, his honour. Such confidence
demanded full confidence in return; the unwritten laws which governed the men amongst
whom he had been brought up required it.
And the shape that confidence should take? He must first disabuse his new friend's mind
of criminal or unworthy cause for his going away. For the sake of his own name and that
of his dead father that should be done. Then he would have to suggest the real cause . . .
He would in this have to trust Mr. Stonehouse's honour for secrecy. But he was worthy of
trust. He would, of course, give no name, no clue; but he would put things generally in a
way that he could understand.
When his mind was so far made up he wanted to finish the matter, so he turned to the
wheelhouse and climbed the ladder again. It was not till he sat in the shelter by his
companion that he became aware that he had become wet with the spray. The old man
wishing to help him in his embarrassment said:
'Well?' Harold began at once; the straightforward habit of his life stood to him now:
'Let me say first, sir, what will I know give you pleasure.' The old man extended his
hand; he had been hoping for acceptance, and this seemed like it. Harold laid his hand on
it for an instant only, and then raised it as if to say 'Wait':
'You have been so good to me, so nobly generous in your wishes that I feel I owe you a
certain confidence. But as it concerns not myself alone I will ask that it be kept a secret
between us two. Not to be told to any other; not even your wife!'
'I will hold your secret sacred. Even from my wife; the first secret I shall have ever kept
'First, then, let me say, and this is what I know will rejoice you, that I am not leaving
home and country because of any crime I have committed; not from any offence against
God or man, or law. Thank God! I am free from such. I have always tried to live
uprightly . . . ' Here a burst of pain overcame him, and with a dry sob he added: 'And that
is what makes the terrible unfairness of it all!'
The old man laid a kindly hand on his shoulder and kept it there for a few moments.
'My poor boy! My poor boy!' was all he said. Harold shook himself as if to dislodge the
bitter thoughts. Mastering himself he went on: