Chapter XXX: 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 wigwam, the idea so grew with each day of
the monotony, that when he was able to crawl out by himself into the
sunshine he had almost made up his mind to start back for home.
Luck is a strange thing. It seems in some mysterious way to be the
divine machinery for adjusting averages. Whatever may be the measure
of happiness or unhappiness, good or evil, allotted to anyone, luck
is the cause or means of counter-balancing so that the main result
reaches the standard set.
From the time of Harold's illness Dame Fortune seemed to change her
attitude to him. The fierce frown, nay! the malignant scowl, to
which he had become accustomed, changed to a smile. Hitherto
everything seemed to have gone wrong with him; but now all at once
all seemed to go right. He grew strong and hardy again. Indeed, he
seemed by contrast to his late helplessness to be so strong and hard
that it looked as if that very illness had done him good instead of
harm. Game was plentiful, and he never seemed to want. Everywhere
he went there were traces of gold, as though by some instinct he was
tracking it to its home. He did not value gold for its own sake; but
he did for the ardour of the search. Harold was essentially a man,
and as a man an adventurer. To such a man of such a race adventure
is the very salt of existence.
The adventurer's instinct took with it the adventurer's judgment;
Harold was not content with small results. Amidst the vast primeval
forces there were, he felt, vast results of their prehistoric
working; and he determined to find some of them. In such a quest,
purpose is much. It was hardly any wonder, then, that in time Harold
found himself alone in the midst of one of the great treasure-places
of the world. Only labour was needed to take from the earth riches
beyond the dreams of avarice. But that labour was no easy problem;
great and difficult distance had to be overcome; secrecy must be
observed, for even a whisper of the existence of such a place would
bring a horde of desperadoes. But all these difficulties were at
least sources of interest, if not in themselves pleasures. The new
Harold, seemingly freshly created by a year of danger and strenuous
toil, of self-examining and humiliation, of the realisation of duty,
and--though he knew it not as yet--of the dawning of hope, found
delight in the thought of dangers and difficulties to be overcome.
Having taken his bearings exactly so as to be safe in finding the
place again, he took his specimens with him and set out to find the
shortest and best route to the nearest port.
At length he came to the port and set quietly about finding men.
This he did very carefully and very systematically. Finally, with
the full complement, and with ample supply of stores, he started on
his expedition to the new goldfields.
It is not purposed to set out here the extraordinary growth of
Robinson City, for thus the mining camp soon became. Its history has
long ago been told for all the world. In the early days, when
everything had to be organised and protected, Harold worked like a
giant, and with a system and energy which from the first established
him as a master. But when the second year of his exile was coming to
a close, and Robinson City was teeming with life and commerce, when
banks and police and soldiers made life and property comparatively
safe, he began to be restless again. This was not the life to which
he had set himself. He had gone into the wilderness to be away from
cities and from men; and here a city had sprung up around him and men
claimed him as their chief. Moreover, with the restless feeling
there began to come back to him the old thoughts and the old pain.
But he felt strong enough by this time to look forward in life as
well as backward. With him now to think was to act; so much at least
he had gained from his position of dominance in an upspringing city.
He quietly consolidated such outlying interests as he had, placed the
management of his great estate in the hands of a man he had learned
to trust, and giving out that he was going to San Francisco to
arrange some business, left Robinson City. He had already
accumulated such a fortune that the world was before him in any way
he might choose to take.
Knowing that at San Francisco, to which he had booked, he would have
to run the gauntlet of certain of his friends and business
connections, he made haste to leave the ship quietly at Portland, the
first point she touched on her southern journey. Thence he got on
the Canadian Pacific Line and took his way to Montreal.
What most arrested his attention, and in a very disconcerting way,
were the glimpses of English life one sees reproduced so faithfully
here and there in Canada. The whole of the past rushed back on him
so overpoweringly that he was for the moment unnerved. The acute
feeling of course soon became mitigated; but it was the beginning of
a re-realisation of what had been, and which grew stronger with each
mile as the train swept back eastward.
At first he tried to fight it; tried with all the resources of his
strong nature. His mind was made up, he assured himself over and
over again. The past was past, and what had been was no more to him
than to any of the other passengers of the train. Destiny had long
ago fulfilled itself. Stephen no doubt had by now found some one
worthy of her and had married. In no dream, sleeping or waking,
could he ever admit that she had married Leonard; that was the only
gleam of comfort in what had grown to be remorse for his neglected
And so it was that Harold An Wolf slowly drifted, though he knew it
not, into something of the same intellectual position which had
dominated him when he had started on his journeying and the sunset
fell nightly on his despairing face. The life in the wilderness, and
then in the dominance and masterdom of enterprise, had hardened and
strengthened him into more self-reliant manhood, giving him greater
forbearance and a more practical view of things.
When he took ship in the Dominion, a large cargo-boat with some
passengers running to London, he had a vague purpose of visiting in
secret Norcester, whence he could manage to find out how matters were
at Normanstand. He would then, he felt, be in a better position to
regulate his further movements. He knew that he had already a
sufficient disguise in his great beard. He had nothing to fear from
the tracing of him on his journey from Alaska or the interest of his
fellow-passengers. He had all along been so fortunate as to be able
to keep his identity concealed. The name John Robinson told nothing
in itself, and the width of a whole great continent lay between him
and the place of his fame. He was able to take his part freely
amongst both the passengers and the officers. Even amongst the crew
he soon came to be known; the men liked his geniality, and
instinctively respected his enormous strength and his manifest force
of character. Men who work and who know danger soon learn to
recognise the forces which overcome both. And as sufficient time had
not elapsed to impair his hardihood or lower his vast strength he was
facile princeps. And so the crew acknowledged him; to them he was a
born Captain whom to obey would be a natural duty.
After some days the weather changed. The great ship, which usually
rested even-keeled on two waves, and whose bilge keels under normal
conditions rendered rolling impossible, began to pitch and roll like
a leviathan at play. The decks, swept by gigantic seas, were injured
wherever was anything to injure. Bulwarks were torn away as though
they had been compact of paper. More than once the double doors at
the head of the companion stairs had been driven in. The bull's eye
glasses of some of the ports were beaten from their brazen sockets.
Nearly all the boats had been wrecked, broken or torn from their
cranes as the great ship rolled heavily in the trough, or giant waves
had struck her till she quivered like a frightened horse.
At that season she sailed on the far northern course. Driven still
farther north by the gales, she came within a short way of south of
Greenland. Then avoiding Moville, which should have been her place
of call, she ran down the east of Britain, the wild weather still