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37. Golden Silence
Each day that passed seemed to add to the trouble in the heart of these young people; to
widen the difficulty of expressing themselves. To Stephen, who had accepted the new
condition of things and whose whole nature had bloomed again under the sunshine of
hope, it was the less intolerable. She had set herself to wait, as had countless thousands of
women before her; and as due proportion will, till the final cataclysm abolishes earthly
unions. But Harold felt the growth, both positive and negative, as a new torture; and he
began to feel that he would be unable to go through with it. In his heart was the constant
struggle of hope; and in opposition to it the seeming realisation of every new fancy of
evil. That bitter hour, when the whole of creation was for him turned upside down, was
having its sad effect at last. Had it not been for that horrid remembrance he would have
come to believe enough in himself to put his future to the test. He would have made an
opportunity at which Stephen and himself would have with the fires of their mutual love
burned away the encircling mist. There are times when a single minute of commonsense
would turn sorrow into joy; and yet that minute, our own natures being the opposing
forces, will be allowed to pass.
Those who loved these young people were much concerned about them. Mrs. Stonehouse
took their trouble so much to heart that she spoke to her husband about it, seriously
advising that one or other of them should make an effort to bring things in the right way
for their happiness. The woman was sure of the woman's feeling. It is from men, not
women, that women hide their love. By side-glances and unthinking moments women
note and learn. The man knew already, from his own lips, of the man's passion. But his
lips were sealed by his loyalty; and he said earnestly:
'My dear, we must not interfere. Not now, at any rate; we might cause them great trouble.
I am as sure as you are that they really love each other. But they must win happiness by
themselves and through themselves alone. Otherwise it would never be to them what it
ought to be; what it might be; what it will be!'
So these friends were silent, and the little tragedy developed. Harold's patience began to
give way under the constant strain of self-suppression. Stephen tried to hide her love and
fear, under the mask of a gracious calm. This the other took for indifference.
At last there came an hour which was full of new, hopeless agony to Stephen. She heard
Harold, in a fragment of conversation, speak to Mr. Stonehouse of the need of returning
to Alaska. That sounded like a word of doom. In her inmost heart she knew that Harold
loved her; and had she been free she would have herself spoken the words which would
have drawn the full truth to them both. But how could she do so, having the remembrance
of that other episode; when, without the reality of love, she had declared herself? . . . Oh!
the shame of it . . . The folly! . . . And Harold knew it all! How could he ever believe that
it was real this time! . . .