Chapter XXXVII: 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! ...
By the exercise of that self-restraint which long suffering had
taught her, Stephen so managed to control herself that none of her
guests realised what a blow she had received from a casual word. She
bore herself gallantly till the last moment. After the old fashion
of her youth, she had from the Castle steps seen their departure.
Then she took her way to her own room, and locked herself in. She
did not often, in these days, give way to tears; when she did cry it
was as a luxury, and not from poignant cause. Her deep emotion was
dry-eyed as of old. Now, she did not cry, she sat still, her hands
clasped below her knees, with set white face gazing out on the far-
off sea. For hours she sat there lonely; staring fixedly all the
time, though her thoughts were whirling wildly. At first she had
some vague purpose, which she hoped might eventually work out into a
plan. But thought would not come. Everywhere there was the same
beginning: a wild, burning desire to let Harold understand her
feeling towards him; to blot out, with the conviction of trust and
love, those bitter moments when in the madness of her overstrung
passion she had heaped such insult upon him. Everywhere the same
end: an impasse. He seemingly could not, would not, understand.
She knew now that the man had diffidences, forbearances, self-
judgments and self-denials which made for the suppression, in what he
considered to be her interest, of his own desires. This was tragedy
indeed! Again and again came back the remembrance of that bitter
regret of her Aunt Laetitia, which no happiness and no pain of her
own had ever been able to efface:
'To love; and be helpless! To wait, and wait, and wait; with heart
all aflame! To hope, and hope; till time seemed to have passed away,
and all the world to stand still on your hopeless misery! To know
that a word might open up Heaven; and yet to have to remain mute! To
keep back the glances that could enlighten, to modulate the tones
that might betray! To see all you hoped for passing away ... !'
At last she seemed to understand the true force of pride; which has
in it a thousand forces of its own, positive, negative, restrainful.
Oh! how blind she had been! How little she had learned from the
miseries that the other woman whom she loved had suffered! How
unsympathetic she had been; how self-engrossed; how callous to the
sensibilities of others! And now to her, in her turn, had come the
same suffering; the same galling of the iron fetters of pride, and of
convention which is its original expression! Must it be that the
very salt of youth must lose its savour, before the joys of youth
could be won! What, after all, was youth if out of its own inherent
power it must work its own destruction! If youth was so, why not
then trust the wisdom of age? If youth could not act for its own
Here the rudiment of a thought struck her and changed the current of
her reason. A thought so winged with hope that she dared not even
try to complete it! ... She thought, and thought till the long
autumn shadows fell around her. But the misty purpose had become
After dinner she went up alone to the mill. It was late for a visit,
for the Silver Lady kept early hours. But she found her friend as
usual in her room, whose windows swept the course of the sun. Seeing
that her visitor was in a state of mental disturbance such as she had
once before exhibited, she blew out the candles and took the same
seat in the eastern window she had occupied on the night which they
both so well remembered.
Stephen understood both acts, and was grateful afresh. The darkness
would be a help to her in what she had to say; and the resumption of
the old seat and attitude did away with the awkwardness of new
confidence. During the weeks that had passed Stephen had kept her
friend informed of the rescue and progress of the injured man. Since
the discovery of Harold's identity she had allowed her to infer her
feeling towards him.
Shyly she had conveyed her hopes that all the bitter part of the past
might be wiped out. To the woman who already knew of the love that
had always been, but had only awakened to consciousness in the
absence of its object, a hint was sufficient to build upon. She had
noticed the gloom that had of late been creeping over the girl's
happiness; and she had been much troubled about it. But she had
thought it wiser to be silent; she well knew that should unhappily
the time for comfort come, it must be precluded by new and more
explicit confidence. So she too had been anxiously waiting the
progress of events. Now; as she put her arms round the girl she said
softly; not in the whisper which implies doubt of some kind, but in
the soft voices which conveys sympathy and trust:
'Tell me, dear child!'
And then in broken words shyly spoken, and spoken in such a way that
the silences were more eloquent than the words, the girl conveyed
what was in her heart. The other listened, now and again stroking
the beautiful hair. When all was said, there was a brief pause. The
Silver Lady spoke no word; but the pressure of her delicate hand
In but a half-conscious way, in words that came so shrinkingly
through the darkness that they hardly reached the ear bent low to
catch them, came Stephen's murmured thought:
'Oh, if he only knew! And I can't tell him; I can't! dare not! I
must not. How could I dishonour him by bearing myself towards him as
to that other ... worthless ... ! Oh! the happy, happy girls,
who have mothers ... !' All the muscles of her body seemed to
shrink and collapse, till she was like an inert mass at the Silver
But the other understood!
After a long, long pause; when Stephen's sobbing had died away; when
each muscle of her body had become rigid on its return to normal
calm; the Silver Lady began to talk of other matters, and
conversation became normal. Stephen's courage seemed somehow to be
restored, and she talked brightly.
Before they parted the Silver Lady made a request. She said in her
'Couldst thou bring that gallant man who saved so many lives, and to
whom the Lord was so good in the restoration of his sight, to see me?
Thou knowest I have made a resolution not to go forth from this calm
place whilst I may remain. But I should like to see him before he
returns to that far North where he has done such wonders. He is
evidently a man of kind heart; perhaps he will not mind coming to see
a lonely woman who is no longer young. There is much I should like
to ask him of that land of which nothing was known in my own youth.
Perhaps he will not mind seeing me alone.' Stephen's heart beat
furiously. She felt suffocating with new hope, for what could be but
good from Harold's meeting with that sweet woman who had already
brought so much comfort into her own life? She was abashed, and yet
radiant; she seemed to tread on air as she stood beside her friend
saying farewell. She did not wish to speak. So the two women kissed
It had been arranged that two days hence the Stonehouse party were to
spend the day at Lannoy, coming before lunch and staying the night,
as they wanted in the afternoon to return a visit at some distance to
the north of Lannoy. Harold was to ride over with them.
When the Varilands party arrived, Stephen told them of Sister Ruth's
wish to see Harold. Pearl at once proffered a request that she also
should be taken at some other time to see the Silver Lady. Harold
acquiesced heartily; and it was agreed that some time in the late
afternoon he should pay the visit. Stephen would bring him.
Strangely enough, she felt no awkwardness, no trepidation, as they
rode up the steep road to the Mill.
When the introduction had been effected, and half an hour had been
consumed in conventional small talk, Stephen, obedience to a look
from the Silver Lady, rose. She said in they most natural way she
'Now Sister Ruth, I will leave you two alone, if you do not mind.
Harold can tell you all you want to know about Alaska; and perhaps,
if you are very good, he will tell some of his adventures! Good
afternoon, dear. I wish you were to be with us to-night; but I know
your rule. I go for my ride. Sultan has had no exercise for five
days; and he looked at me quite reproachfully when we met this
morning. Au revoir, Harold. We shall meet at dinner!'
When she had gone Harold came back from the door, and stood in the
window looking east. The Silver Lady came and stood beside him. She
did not seem to notice his face, but in the mysterious way of women
she watched him keenly. She wished to satisfy her own mind before
she undertook her self-appointed task.
Her eyes were turned towards the headland towards which Stephen on
her white Arab was galloping at breakneck speed. He was too good a
horseman himself, and he knew her prowess on horseback too well to
have any anxiety regarding such a rider at Stephen. It was not fear,
then, that made his face so white, and his eyes to have such an
The Silver Lady made up her mind. All her instincts were to trust
him. She recognised a noble nature, with which truth would be her
'Come,' she said, 'sit here, friend; where another friend has often
sat with me. From this you can see all the coastline, and all that
thou wilt!' Harold put a chair beside the one she pointed out; and
when she was seated he sat also. She began at once with a desperate
'I have wanted much to see thee. I have heard much of thee, before
thy coming.' There was something in the tone of her voice which
arrested his attention, and he looked keenly at her. Here, in the
full light, her face looked sadly white and he noticed that her lips
trembled. He said with all the kindliness of his nature, for from
the first moment he had seen her he had taken to her, her purity and
earnestness and sweetness appealing to some aspiration within him:
'You are pale! I fear you are not well! May I call your maid? Can
I do anything for you?' She waved her hand gently:
'Nay! It is nothing. It is but the result of a sleepless night and
'Oh! I wish I had known! I could have put off my visit; and I could
have come any other time to suit you.' She smiled gently:
'I fear that would have availed but little. It was of thy coming
that I was concerned.' Seeing his look of amazement' she went on
quickly, her voice becoming more steady as she lost sight of herself
in her task:
'Be patient a little with me. I am an old woman; and until recently
it has been many and many years since the calm which I sought here
has been ruffled. I had come to believe that for me earthly troubles
were no more. But there has come into my life a new concern. I have
heard so much of thee, and before thy coming.' The recurrence of the
phrase struck him. He would have asked how such could be, but he
deemed it better to wait. She went on:
'I have been wishful to ask thy advice. But why should not I tell
thee outright that which troubles me? I am not used, at least for
these many years, to dissemble. I can but trust thee in all; and
lean on thy man's mercy to understand, and to aid me!'
'I shall do all in my power, believe me!' said Harold simply. 'Speak
freely!' She pointed out of the window, where Stephen's white horse
seemed on the mighty sweep of green sward like a little dot.
'It is of her that I would speak to thee!' Harold's heart began to
beat hard; he felt that something was coming. The Silver Lady went
'Why thinkest thou that she rideth at such speed? It is her habit!'
He waited. She continued:
'Doth it not seem to thee that such reckless movement is the result
of much trouble; that she seeketh forgetfulness?' He knew that she
was speaking truly; and somehow the conviction was borne upon him
that she knew his secret heart, and was appealing to it. If it was
about Stephen! If her disquiet was about her; then God bless her!
He would be patient and grateful. The Quaker's voice seemed to come
through his thought, as though she had continued speaking whilst he
'We have all our own secrets. I have had mine; and I doubt not that
thou hast had, may still have, thine own. Stephen hath hers! May I
speak to thee of her?'
'I shall be proud! Oh! madam, I thank you with all my heart for your
sweet kindness to her. I cannot say what I feel; for she has always
been very dear to me!' In the pause before she spoke again the
beating of his own heart seemed to re-echo the quick sounds of
Stephen's galloping horse. He was surprised at the method of her
speech when it did come; for she forgot her Quaker idiom, and spoke
in the phrasing of her youth:
'Do you love her still?'
'With all my soul! More than ever!'
'Then, God be thanked; for it is in your power to do much good. To
rescue a poor, human, grieving soul from despair!' Her words
conveyed joy greater than she knew. Harold did not himself know why
the air seemed filled with sounds that seemed to answer every doubt
of his life. He felt, understood, with that understanding which is
quicker than thought. The Silver Lady went on now with a rush:
'See, I have trusted you indeed! I have given away another woman's
secret; but I do it without fear. I can see that you also are
troubled; and when I look back on my own life and remember the
trouble that sent me out of the world; a lonely recluse here in this
spot far from the stress of life, I rejoice that any act of mine can
save such another tragedy as my own. I see that I need not go into
detail. You know that I am speaking truth. It was before you came
so heroically on this new scene that she told me her secret. At a
time when nothing was known of you except that you had disappeared.
When she laid bare her poor bleeding heart to me, she did it in such
wise that for an instant I feared that it was a murder which she had
committed. Indeed, she called it so! You understand that I know all
your secret; all her part in it at least. And I know that you
understand what loving duty lies before you. I see it in your eyes;
your brave, true eyes! Go! and the Lord be with thee!' Her
accustomed idiom had returned with prayer. She turned her head away,
and, standing up, leaned against the window. Bending over, he took
her hand and said simply:
'God bless you! I shall come back to thank you either to-night or
to-morrow; and I hope that she will be with me.'
He went quickly out of the room. The woman stood for long looking
out of the window, and following with tear-dimmed eyes the movement
of his great black horse as he swept across country straight as the
crow flies, towards the headland whither Stephen had gone.
Stephen passed over the wide expanse without thought; certainly
without memory of it. Never in her after-life could she recall any
thought that had passed through her mind from the time she left the
open gate of the windmill yard till she pulled up her smoking,
panting horse beside the ruin of the fisher's house.
Stephen was not unhappy! She was not happy in any conscious form.
She was satisfied rather than dissatisfied. She was a woman! A
woman who waited the coming of a man!
For a while she stood at the edge of the cliff, and looked at the
turmoil of the tide churning on the rocks below. Her heart went out
in a great burst of thankfulness that it was her hand which had been
privileged to aid in rescuing so dear a life. Then she looked around
her. Ostensibly it was to survey the ruined house; but in reality to
search, even then under her lashes, the whole green expanse sloping
up to the windmill for some moving figure. She saw that which made
her throat swell and her ears to hear celestial music. But she would
not allow herself to think, of that at all events. She was all woman
now; all-patient, and all-submissive. She waited the man; and the
man was coming!
For a few minutes she walked round the house as though looking at it
critically for some after-purpose. After the wreck Stephen had
suggested to Trinity House that there should be a lighthouse on the
point; and offered to bear the expense of building it. She was
awaiting the answer of the Brethren; and of course nothing would be
done in clearing the ground for any purpose till the answer had come.
She felt now that if that reply was negative, she would herself build
there a pleasure-house of her own.
Then she went to the edge of the cliff, and went down the zigzag by
which the man and horse had gone to their gallant task. At the edge
of the flat rock she sat and thought.
And through all her thoughts passed the rider who even now was
thundering over the green sward on his way to her. In her fancy at
first, and later in her ears, she could hear the sound of his
It was thus that a man should come to a woman!
She had no doubts now. Her quietude was a hymn of grateful praise!
The sound stopped. With all her ears she listened, her heart now
beginning to beat furiously. The sea before her, all lines and
furrows with the passing tide, was dark under the shadow of the
cliff; and the edge of the shadow was marked with the golden hue of
And then she saw suddenly a pillar of shadow beyond the line of the
cliff. It rested but a moment, moved swiftly along the edge, and
then was lost to her eyes.
But to another sense there was greater comfort: she heard the
clatter of rolling pebbles and the scramble of eager feet. Harold
was hastening down the zigzag.
Oh! the music of that sound! It woke all the finer instincts of the
woman. All the dross and thought of self passed away. Nature, sweet
and simple and true, reigned alone. Instinctively she rose and came
towards him. In the simple nobility of her self-surrender and her
purpose, which were at one with the grandeur of nature around her, to
be negative was to be false.
Since he had spoken with the Silver Lady Harold had swept through the
air; the rush of his foaming horse over the sward had been but a slow
physical progress, which mocked the on-sweep of his mind. In is
rapid ride he too had been finding himself. By the reading of his
own soul he knew now that love needs a voice; that a man's love, to
be welcomed to the full, should be dominant and self-believing.
When the two saw each other's eyes there was no need for words.
Harold came close, opening wide his arms, Stephen flew to them.
In that divine moment, when their mouths met, both knew that their
souls were one.