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30. The Lesson Of The Wilderness
In the West the two years flew. Time seemed to go faster there, because life was more
strenuous. Harold, being mainly alone, found endless work always before him. From
daylight to dark labour never ceased; and for his own part he never wished that it should.
In the wilderness, and especially under such conditions as held in Northern Alaska,
labour is not merely mechanical. Every hour of the day is fraught with danger in some
new form, and the head has to play its part in the strife against nature. In such a life there
is not much time for thinking or brooding.
At first, when the work and his surroundings were strange to him, Harold did many
useless things and ran many unnecessary risks. But his knowledge grew with experience.
Privations he had in plenty; and all the fibre of his body and the strength of his resolution
and endurance were now and again taxed to their utmost. But with a man of his nature
and race the breaking strain is high; and endurance and resolution are qualities which
develop with practice.
Gradually his mind came back to normal level; he had won seemingly through the pain
that shadowed him. Without anguish he could now think, remember, look forward. Then
it was that the kindly wisdom of the American came back to him, and came to stay. He
began to examine himself as to his own part of the unhappy transaction; and stray
moments of wonderment came as to whether the fault may not, at the very base, have his
own. He began to realise that it is insufficient in this strenuous world to watch and wait;
to suppress one's self; to put aside, in the wish to benefit others, all the hopes, ambitions,
cravings which make for personal gain.
Thus it was that Harold's thoughts, ever circling round Stephen, came back with
increasing insistence to his duty towards her. He often thought, and with a bitter feeling
against himself that it came too late, of the dying trust of her father:
'Guard her and cherish her, as if you were indeed my son and she your sister . . . If it
should be that you and Stephen should find that there is another affection between you
remember I sanction it. But give her time! I trust that to you! She is young, and the world
is all before her. Let her choose . . . And be loyal to her, if it is another! It may be a hard
task; but I trust you, Harold!'
Here he would groan, as all the anguish of the past would rush back upon him; and
keenest of all would be the fear, suspicion, thought which grew towards belief, that he
may have betrayed that trust. . . .
At first the side of this memory personal to his own happiness was faintly emphasised;
the important side was of the duty to Stephen. But as time went on the other thought
became a sort of corollary; a timid, halting, blushing thought which followed sheepishly,
borne down by trembling hope. No matter what adventure came to him, the thought of
neglected duty returned ever afresh. Once, when he lay sick for weeks in an Indian