Thy Heart's Desire

Thy Heart's Desire

By

Netta Syrett

I


THE tents were pitched in a little plain surrounded by hills.
Right and left there were stretches of tender vivid green
where the young corn was springing ; further still, on either hand,
the plain was yellow with mustard-flower ; but in the immediate
foreground it was bare and stony. A few thorny bushes pushed
their straggling way through the dry soil, ineffectively as far as
the grace of the landscape was concerned, for they merely served
to emphasise the barren aridness of the land that stretched before
the tents, sloping gradually to the distant hills.

The hills were uninteresting enough in themselves ; they had
no grandeur of outline, no picturesqueness even, though at
morning and evening the sun, like a great magician, clothed them
with beauty at a touch.

They had begun to change, to soften, to blush rose-red in the
evening light, when a woman came to the entrance of the largest
of the tents and looked towards them. She leant against the
support on one side of the canvas flap, and putting back her
head, rested that too against it, while her eyes wandered over the
plain and over the distant hills.

She

By Netta Syrett 229

She was bareheaded, for the covering of the tent projected a
few feet to form an awning overhead. The gentle breeze which
had risen with sundown, stirred the soft brown tendrils of hair on
her temples, and fluttered her pink cotton gown a little. She stood
very still, with her arms hanging and her hands clasped loosely in
front of her. There was about her whole attitude an air of
studied quiet which in some vague fashion the slight clasp of her
hands accentuated. Her face, with its tightly, almost rigidly
closed lips, would have been quite in keeping with the impression
of conscious calm which her entire presence suggested, had it not
been that when she raised her eyes a strange contradiction to this
idea was afforded. They were large grey eyes, unusually bright
and rather startling in effect, for they seemed the only live thing
about her. Gleaming from her still set face, there was something
almost alarming in their brilliancy. They softened with a sudden
glow of pleasure as they rested on the translucent green of the
wheat fields under the broad generous sunlight, and then wandered
to where the pure vivid yellow of the mustard-flower spread in
waves to the base of the hills, now mystically veiled in radiance.
She stood motionless watching their melting elusive changes from
palpitating rose to the transparent purple of amethyst. The still-
ness of evening was broken by the monotonous, not unmusical
creaking of a Persian wheel at some little distance to the left of
the tent. The well stood in a little grove of trees : between
their branches she could see, when she turned her head, the
coloured saris of the village women, where they stood in groups
chattering as they drew the water, and the little naked brown
babies that toddled beside them or sprawled on the hard ground
beneath the trees. From the village of flat-roofed mud-houses
under the low hill at the back of the tents, other women were
crossing the plain towards the well, their terra-cotta water-jars

poised

230 Thy Heart's Desire

poised easily on their heads, casting long shadows on the sun-
baked ground as they came.

Presently, in the distance, from the direction of the sunlit hills
opposite, a little group of men came into sight. Far off, the
mustard-coloured jackets and the red turbans of the orderlies
made vivid splashes of colour on the dull plain. As they came
nearer, the guns slung across their shoulders, the cases of mathe-
matical instruments, the hammers and other heavy baggage they
carried for the Sahib, became visible. A little in front, at walking
pace, rode the Sahib himself, making notes as he came in a book
he held before him. The girl at the tent-entrance watched the
advance of the little company indifferently, it seemed ; except for a
slight tightening of the muscles about her mouth, her face
remained unchanged. While he was still some little distance
away, the man with the note-book raised his head and smiled
awkwardly as he saw her standing there. Awkwardness, perhaps,
best describes the whole man. He was badly put together, loose-
jointed, ungainly. The fact that he was tall profited him nothing,
for it merely emphasised the extreme ungracefulness of his figure.
His long pale face was made paler by a shock of coarse, tow-
coloured hair ; his eyes even looked colourless, though they
were certainly the least uninteresting feature of his face, for
they were not devoid of expression. He had a way of slouch-
ing when he moved that singularly intensified the general
uncouthness of his appearance. " Are you very tired ? " asked
his wife gently when he had dismounted close to the tent.
The question would have been an unnecessary one had it been
put to her instead of to her husband, for her voice had
that peculiar flat toneless sound for which extreme weariness is
answerable.

" Well, no, my dear, not very," he replied, drawling out the

words

By Netta Syrett 231

words with an exasperating air of delivering a final verdict, after
deep reflection on the subject.

The girl glanced once more at the fading colours on the hills.
" Come in and rest," she said, moving aside a little to let him
pass.

She stood lingering a moment after he had entered the tent, as
though unwilling to leave the outer air ; and before she turned to
follow him she drew a deep breath, and her hand went for one
swift second to her throat as though she felt stifled.

Later on that evening she sat in her tent sewing by the light
of the lamp that stood on her little table.

Opposite to her, her husband stretched his ungainly length in a
deck-chair, and turned over a pile of official notes. Every now
and then her eyes wandered from the gay silks of the table-cover
she was embroidering to the canvas walls which bounded the
narrow space into which their few household goods were crowded.
Outside there was a deep hush. The silence of the vast empty
plain seemed to work its way slowly, steadily in, towards the little
patch of light set in its midst. The girl felt it in every nerve ; it
was as though some soft-footed, noiseless, shapeless creature,
whose presence she only dimly divined, was approaching nearer—
nearer. The heavy outer stillness was in some way made more
terrifying by the rustle of the papers her husband was reading, by
the creaking of his chair as he moved, and by the little fidgeting
grunts and half exclamations which from time to time broke from
him. His wife s hand shook at every unintelligible mutter from
him, and the slight habitual contraction between her eyes
deepened.

All at once she threw her work down on to the table. "For
Heaven's sake—— please, John, talk ! " she cried. Her eyes, for

the

232 Thy Heart's Desire

the moment's space in which they met the startled ones of her
husband, had a wild hunted look, but it was gone almost before
his slow brain had time to note that it had been there and was
vaguely disturbing. She laughed a little, unsteadily.

"Did I startle you ? I'm sorry. I—— " she laughed again.
" I believe I'm a little nervous. When one is all day alone—— "
She paused without finishing the sentence. The man's face
changed suddenly. A wave of tenderness swept over it, and at
the same time an expression of half-incredulous delight shone in
his pale eyes.

" Poor little girl, are you really lonely ?" he said. Even the
real feeling in his tone failed to rob his voice of its peculiarly
irritating grating quality. He rose awkwardly and moved to his
wife's side.

Involuntarily she shrank a little, and the hand which he had
stretched out to touch her hair sank to his side. She recovered
herself immediately and turned her face up to his, though she did
not raise her eyes ; but he did not kiss her. Instead, he stood in
an embarrassed fashion a moment by her side, and then went back
to his seat.

There was silence again for some time. The man lay back in
his chair, gazing at his big clumsy shoes, as though he hoped for
some inspiration from that quarter, while his wife worked with
nervous haste.

" Don't let me keep you from reading, John," she said, and her
voice had regained its usual gentle tone.

" No, my dear ; I'm just thinking of something to say to you,
but I don't seem—— "

She smiled a little. In spite of herself, her lip curled faintly.
" Don't worry about it— it was stupid of me to expect it. I
mean ——" she added hastily, immediately repenting the sarcasm.

She

By Netta Syrett 233

She glanced furtively at him, but his face was quite unmoved.
Evidently he had not noticed it, and she smiled faintly again.

"Oh, Kathie, I knew there was something I'd forgotten to tell
you, my dear; there's a man coming down here. I don't know
whether—— "

She looked up sharply. " A man coming here ? What for ? "
she interrupted breathlessly.

"Sent to help me about this oil-boring business, my dear."

He had lighted his pipe, and was smoking placidly, taking long
whiffs between his words.

" Well ? " impatiently questioned his wife, fixing her bright
eyes on his face.

"Well— that's all, my dear."

She checked an exclamation. " But don't you know anything
about him —his name ? where he comes from ? what he is like ?"
She was leaning forward against the table, her needle with a long
end of yellow silk drawn halfway through her work, held in her
upraised hand, her whole attitude one of quivering excitement and
expectancy.

The man took his pipe from his mouth deliberately, with a look
of slow wonder.

" Why Kathie, you seem quite anxious. I didn't know you'd be
so interested, my dear. Weil,"— another long pull at his pipe
" his name's Brook —Brookfield, I think." He paused again.
" This pipe don't draw well a bit ; there's something wrong with
it, I shouldn't wonder," he added, taking it out and examining
the bowl as though struck with the brilliance of the idea.

The woman opposite put down her work and clenched her
hands under the table.

"Go on, John," she said presently in a tense vibrating voice—
"his name is Brookfield. Well, where does he come from ? "

" Straight

234 Thy Heart's Desire

"Straight from home, my dear, I believe." He fumbled in his
pocket, and after some time extricated a pencil with which he
began to poke the tobacco in the bowl in an ineffectual aimless
fashion, becoming completely engrossed in the occupation appa-
rently. There was another long pause. The woman went on
working, or feigning to work, for her hands were trembling a
good deal.

After some moments she raised her head again. "John, will
you mind attending to me one moment, and answering these
questions as quickly as you can ? " The emphasis on the last
word was so faint as to be almost as imperceptible as the touch or
exasperated contempt which she could not absolutely banish from
her tone.

Her husband, looking up, met her clear bright gaze and
reddened like a schoolboy.

"Whereabouts 'from home' does he come?" she asked in a
studiedly gentle fashion.

"Well, from London, I think," he replied, almost briskly for
him, though he stammered and tripped over the words. " He's a
University chap ; I used to hear he was clever— I don't know
about that, I'm sure ; he used to chaff me, I remember, but—— "

" Chaff you ? You have met him then ?

"Yes, my dear" —he was fast relapsing into his slow drawl
again —"that is, I went to school with him, but it's a long time
ago. Brookfield— yes, that must be his name."

She waited a moment, then "When is he coming? she
inquired abruptly.

" Let me see —to-day's—— "

"Monday," the word came swiftly between her set teeth.

" Ah, yes,— Monday— well," reflectively, " next Monday, my
dear."

Mrs. Drayton

By Netta Syrett 235

Mrs. Drayton rose, and began to pace softly the narrow passage
between the table and the tent- wall, her hands clasped loosely
behind her.

" How long have you known this ? she said, stopping
abruptly. " Oh, John, you needn't consider ; it's quite a simple
question. To-day ? Yesterday ? "

Her foot moved restlessly on the ground as she waited.

" I think it was the day before yesterday," he replied.

"Then why in Heaven's name didn't you tell me before ?"she
broke out fiercely.

" My dear, it slipped my memory. If I'd thought you would
be interested—— "

"Interested?" She laughed shortly. "It is rather interesting
to hear that after six months of this"— she made a quick compre-
hensive gesture with her hand— "one will have some one to
speak to— some one. It is the hand of Providence ; it comes just
in time to save me from—— " She checked herself abruptly.

He sat staring up at her stupidly, without a word.

"It's all right, John," she said, with a quick change of tone,
gathering up her work quietly as she spoke. " I'm not mad—
yet. You— you must get used to these little outbreaks," she
added after a moment, smiling faintly, " and to do me justice, I
don't often trouble you with them, do I ? I'm just a little tired,
or it's the heat or— something. No— don't touch me," she
cried, shrinking back, for he had risen slowly and was coming
towards her.

She had lost command over her voice, and the shrill note or
horror in it was unmistakable. The man heard it, and shrank in
his turn.

" I'm so sorry, John," she murmured, raising her great bright
eyes to his face. They had not lost their goaded expression,

though

236 Thy Heart's Desire

though they were full of tears. " I'm awfully sorry, but I'm
just nervous and stupid, and I can t bear any one to touch me when
I'm nervous."


II


" Here's Broomhurst, my dear ! I made a mistake in his name
after all, I find. I told you Brookfield, I believe, didn't I ? Well,
it isn't Brookfield, he says ; it's Broomhurst."

Mrs. Drayton had walked some little distance across the plain to
meet and welcome the expected guest. She stood quietly waiting
while her husband stammered over his incoherent sentences, and
then put out her hand.

"We are very glad to see you," she said with a quick glance at
the newcomer's face as she spoke.

As they walked together towards the tent, after the first greet-
ings, she felt his keen eyes upon her before he turned to her
husband.

" I'm afraid Mrs. Drayton finds the climate trying ? " he asked.
" Perhaps she ought not to have come so far in this heat ? "

" Kathie is often pale. You do look white to-day, my dear,"
he observed, turning anxiously towards his wife.

"Do I?" she replied. The unsteadiness of her tone was
hardly appreciable, but it was not lost on Broomhurst's quick
ears. " Oh, I don't think so. I feel very well."

"I'll come and see if they've fixed you up all right," said
Drayton, following his companion towards the new tent that had
been pitched at some little distance from the large one.

" We shall see you at dinner then ? " Mrs. Drayton observed in
reply to Broomhurst's smile as they parted.

She

By Netta Syrett 237

She entered the tent slowly, and moving up to the table,
already laid for dinner, began to rearrange the things upon it in a
purposeless mechanical fashion.

After a moment she sank down upon a seat opposite the open
entrance, and put her hand to her head.

"What is the matter with me?" she thought wearily. "All
the week I've been looking forward to seeing this man— any man,
any one to take off the edge of this." She shuddered. Even in
thought she hesitated to analyse the feeling that possessed her.
" Well, he's here, and I think I feel worse." Her eyes
travelled towards the hills she had been used to watch at this
hour, and rested on them with a vague unseeing gaze.

"Tired, Kathie ? A penny for your thoughts, my dear,"
said her husband, coming in presently to find her still sitting
there.

"I'm thinking what a curious world this is, and what an
ironical vein of humour the gods who look after it must possess,"
she replied with a mirthless laugh, rising as she spoke.

John looked puzzled.

" Funny my having known Broomhurst before, you mean ? "
he said doubtfully.

"I was fishing down at Lynmouth this time last year,"
Broomhurst said at dinner. "You know Lynmouth, Mrs.
Drayton ? Do you never imagine you hear the gurgling of the
stream ? I am tantalised already by the sound of it rushing
through the beautiful green gloom of those woods— aren't they
lovely ? And I haven't been in this burnt-up spot as many hours
as you've had months of it."

She smiled a little.

"You must learn to possess your soul in patience," she said,

and

238 Thy Heart's Desire

and glanced inconsequently from Broomhurst to her husband, and
then dropped her eyes and was silent a moment.

John was obviously, and a little audibly, enjoying his dinner.
He sat with his chair pushed close to the table, and his elbows
awkwardly raised, swallowing his soup in gulps. He grasped his
spoon tightly in his bony hand so that its swollen joints stood out
larger and uglier than ever, his wife thought.

Her eyes wandered to Broomhurst's hands. They were well
shaped, and though not small, there was a look of refinement about
them ; he had a way of touching things delicately, a little linger-
ingly, she noticed. There was an air of distinction about his
clear-cut, clean-shaven face, possibly intensified by contrast with
Drayton's blurred features ; and it was, perhaps, also by contrast
with the grey cuffs that showed beneath John's ill-cut drab suit that
the linen Broomhurst wore seemed to her particularly spotless.

Broomhurst's thoughts, for his part, were a good deal occupied
with his hostess.

She was pretty, he thought, or perhaps it was that, with the
wide dry lonely plain as a setting, her fragile delicacy of appear-
ance was invested with a certain flower-like charm.

" The silence here seems rather strange, rather appalling at
first, when one is fresh from a town," he pursued, after a
moment s pause, " but I suppose you're used to it ; eh, Drayton ?
How do you find life here, Mrs. Drayton ? " he asked a little
curiously, turning to her as he spoke.

She hesitated a second. " Oh, much the same as I should find
it anywhere else, I expect," she replied ; "after all, one carries the
possibilities of a happy life about with one —don't you think so ?
The Garden of Eden wouldn't necessarily make my life any
happier, or less happy, than a howling wilderness like this. It
depends on oneself entirely."

" Given

By Netta Syrett 239

" Given the right Adam and Eve, the desert blossoms like the
rose, in fact," Broomhurst answered lightly, with a smiling glance
inclusive of husband and wife ; " you two don't feel as though
you'd been driven out of Paradise evidently."

Drayton raised his eyes from his plate with a smile of tota
incomprehension.

" Great Heavens ! What an Adam to select ! " thought Broom-
hurst involuntarily, as Mrs. Drayton rose rather suddenly from
the table.

" I'll come and help with that packing-case," John said, rising,
in his turn, lumberingly from his place; "then we can have a
smoke —eh ? Kathie don't mind, if we sit near the entrance."

The two men went out together, Broomhurst holding the
lantern, for the moon had not yet risen. Mrs. Drayton followed
them to the doorway, and, pushing the looped-up hanging further
aside, stepped out into the cool darkness.

Her heart was beating quickly, and there was a great lump in
her throat that frightened her as though she were choking.

"And I am his wife— I belong to him!" she cried, almost
aloud.

She pressed both her hands tightly against her breast, and set
her teeth, fighting to keep down the rising flood that threatened
to sweep away her composure. " Oh, what a fool I am !
What an hysterical fool of a woman I am ! " she whispered below
her breath. She began to walk slowly up and down outside the
tent, in the space illumined by the lamplight, as though striving
to make her outwardly quiet movements react upon the inward
tumult. In a little while she had conquered ; she quietly entered
the tent, drew a low chair to the entrance, and took up a book,
just as footsteps became audible. A moment afterwards Broom
hurst emerged from the darkness into the circle of light outside,

and

240 Thy Heart's Desire

and Mrs. Drayton raised her eyes from the pages she was turning
to greet him with a smile.

" Are your things all right ? "

"Oh yes, more or less, thank you. I was a little concerned
about a case of books, but it isn't much damaged fortunately.
Perhaps I've some you would care to look at ?"

" The books will be a godsend," she returned with a sudden
brightening of the eyes ; I was getting desperate —for books."

" What are you reading now ? " he asked, glancing at the
volume that lay in her lap.

" It's a Browning. I carry it about a good deal. I think I
like to have it with me, but I don't seem to read it much."

"Are you waiting for a suitable optimistic moment ? " Broom-
hurst inquired smiling.

" Yes, now you mention it, I think that must be why I am
waiting," she replied slowly.

" And it doesn't come— even in the Garden of Eden ? Surely
the serpent, pessimism, hasn't been insolent enough to draw you
into conversation with him ? " he said lightly.

"There has been no one to converse with at all— when John is
away, I mean. I think I should have liked a little chat with the
serpent immensely by way of a change," she replied in the same
tone.

" Ah, yes," Broomhurst said with sudden seriousness, " it must
be unbearably dull for you alone here, with Drayton away all
day."

Mrs. Drayton's hand shook a little as she fluttered a page of her
open book.

" I should think it quite natural you would be irritated beyond
endurance to hear that all's right with the world, for instance,
when you were sighing for the long day to pass," he continued.

" I don't

By Netta Syrett 241

" I don't mind the day so much —it's the evenings." She
abruptly checked the swift words and flushed painfully. " I mean
—I've grown stupidly nervous, I think— even when John is here.
Oh, you have no idea of the awful silence of this place at night,"
she added, rising hurriedly from her low seat, and moving closer to
the doorway. " It is so close, isn't it ? " she said, almost apologeti-
cally. There was silence for quite a minute.

Broomhurst's quick eyes noted the silent momentary clenching
of the hands that hung at her side as she stood leaning against the
support at the entrance.

" But how stupid of me to give you such a bad impression of
the camp— the first evening, too," Mrs. Drayton exclaimed
presently, and her companion mentally commended the admirable
composure of her voice.

" Probably you will never notice that it is lonely at all," she
continued, "John likes it here. He is immensely interested in his
work, you know. I hope you are too. If you are interested it
is all quite right. I think the climate tries me a little. I never
used to be stupid —and nervous. Ah, here's John ; he's been
round to the kitchen-tent, I suppose."

" Been looking after that fellow cleanin' my gun, my dear,"
John explained, shambling towards the deck-chair.

Later, Broomhurst stood at his own tent-door. He looked up
at the star-sown sky, and the heavy silence seemed to press upon
him like an actual, physical burden.

He took his cigar from between his lips presently and looked at
the glowing end reflectively before throwing it away.

" Considering that she has been alone with him here for six
months, she has herself very well in hand— very well in hand," he
repeated.

The Yellow Book Vol. II. o

It

242 Thy Heart's Desire


III


It was Sunday morning. John Drayton sat just inside the tent,
presumably enjoying his pipe before the heat of the day. His eyes
furtively followed his wife as she moved about near him, some-
times passing close to his chair in search of something she had
mislaid. There was colour in her cheeks ; her eyes, though pre-
occupied, were bright ; there was a lightness and buoyancy in her
step which she set to a little dancing air she was humming under
her breath.

After a moment or two the song ceased, she began to move
slowly, sedately ; and as if chilled by a raw breath of air, the light
faded from her eyes, which she presently turned towards her
husband.

" Why do you look at me ? " she asked suddenly.

"I don't know, my dear," he began, slowly and laboriously as
was his wont. " I was thinkin' how nice you looked— jest now—
much better you know —but somehow "— he was taking long
whiffs at his pipe, as usual, between each word, while she stood
patiently waiting for him to finish— " somehow, you alter so, my
dear— you're quite pale again all of a minute."

She stood listening to him, noticing against her will the more
than suspicion of cockney accent and the thick drawl with which
the words were uttered.

His eyes sought her face piteously. She noticed that too, and
stood before him torn by conflicting emotions, pity and disgust
struggling in a hand-to-hand fight within her.

" Mr. Broomhurst and I are going down by the well to sit ; it's
cooler there. Won't you come ? " she said at last gently.

He

By Netta Syrett 243

He did not reply for a moment, then he turned his head aside
sharply for him.

" No, my dear, thank you ; I'm comfortable enough here," he
returned huskily.

She stood over him, hesitating a second, then moved abruptly to
the table, from which she took a book.

He had risen from his seat by the time she turned to go out, and
he intercepted her timorously.

" Kathie, give me a kiss before you go," he whispered hoarsely.
" I— I don't often bother you."

She drew her breath in deeply as he put his arms clumsily about
her, but she stood still, and he kissed her on the forehead, and
touched the little wavy curls that strayed across it gently with his
big trembling fingers.

When he released her she moved at once impetuously to the
open doorway. On the threshold she hesitated, paused a moment
irresolutely, and then turned back.

" Shall I—— Does your pipe want filling, John ? " she asked
softly.

" No, thank you, my dear."

"Would you like me to stay, read to you, or anything ?"

He looked up at her wistfully. " N-no, thank you, I'm not
much of a reader, you know, my dear— somehow."

She hated herself for knowing that there would be a " my dear,"
probably a "somehow " in his reply, and despised herself for the
sense of irritated impatience she felt by anticipation, even before
the words were uttered.

There was a moment's hesitating silence, broken by the sound
of quick firm footsteps without. Broomhurst paused at the
entrance, and looked into the tent.

" Aren't you coming, Drayton ? " he asked, looking first at

Drayton's

244 Thy Heart's Desire

Drayton's wife and then swiftly putting in his name with a
scarcely perceptible pause. " Too lazy ? But you, Mrs. Dray-
ton ? "

" Yes, I'm coming," she said.

They left the tent together, and walked some few steps in silence.

Broomhurst shot a quick glance at his companion's face.

" Anything wrong ? " he asked presently.

Though the words were ordinary enough, the voice in which
they were spoken was in some subtle fashion a different voice from
that in which he had talked to her nearly two months ago, though
it would have required a keen sense of nice shades in sound to
have detected the change.

Mrs. Drayton's sense of niceties in sound was particularly keen,
but she answered quietly, " Nothing, thank you."

They did not speak again till the trees round the stone-well
were reached.

Broomhurst arranged their seats comfortably beside it.

" Are we going to read or talk ? " he asked, looking up at her
from his lower place.

" Well, we generally talk most when we arrange to read, so
shall we agree to talk to-day for a change, by way of getting some
reading done ? " she rejoined, smiling. " You begin."

Broomhurst seemed in no hurry to avail himself of the per-
mission, he was apparently engrossed in watching the flecks of
sunshine on Mrs. Drayton's white dress. The whirring of insects,
and the creaking of a Persian wheel somewhere in the neighbour-
hood, filtered through the hot silence.

Mrs. Drayton laughed after a few minutes ; there was a touch
of embarrassment in the sound.

" The new plan doesn't answer. Suppose you read as usual,
and let me interrupt, also as usual, after the first two lines."

He

By Netta Syrett 245

He opened the book obediently, but turned the pages at random.

She watched him for a moment, and then bent a little forward
towards him.

" It is my turn now," she said suddenly. " Is anything wrong ?"

He raised his head, and their eyes met. There was a pause.
"I will be more honest than you," he returned. "Yes, there is."

" What ? "

" I've had orders to move on."

She drew back, and her lips whitened, though she kept them
steady.

" When do you go ? "

" On Wednesday."

There was silence again ; the man still kept his eyes on her
face.

The whirring of the insects and the creaking of the wheel
had suddenly grown so strangely loud and insistent, that it was in
a half-dazed fashion she at length heard her name —" Kathleen !"

" Kathleen ! " he whispered again hoarsely.

She looked him full in the face, and once more their eyes met
in a long grave gaze.

The man's face flushed, and he half rose from his seat with an
impetuous movement, but Kathleen stopped him with a glance.

"Will you go and fetch my work? I left it in the tent," she
said, speaking very clearly and distinctly ; " and then will you go
on reading ? I will find the place while you are gone."

She took the book from his hand, and he rose and stood before
her.

There was a mute appeal in his silence, and she raised her head
slowly.

Her face was white to the lips, but she looked at him unflinch-
ingly ; and without a word he turned and left her.

Mrs. Drayton

246 Thy Heart's Desire

IV

Mrs. Drayton was resting in the tent on Tuesday afternoon.
With the help of cushions and some low chairs she had improvised
a couch, on which she lay quietly with her eyes closed. There
was a tenseness, however, in her attitude which indicated that
sleep was far from her.

Her features seemed to have sharpened during the last few days,
and there were hollows in her cheeks. She had been very still for
a long time, but all at once with a sudden movement she turned
her head and buried her face in the cushions with a groan.
Slipping from her place she fell on her knees beside the couch,
and put both hands before her mouth to force back the cry that
she felt struggling to her lips.

For some moments the wild effort she was making for outward
calm, which even when she was alone was her first instinct, strained
every nerve and blotted out sight and hearing, and it was not till
the sound was very near that she was conscious of the ring of
horse's hoofs on the plain.

She raised her head sharply with a thrill of fear, still kneeling,
and listened.

There was no mistake. The horseman was riding in hot haste,
for the thud of the hoofs followed one another swiftly.

As Mrs. Drayton listened her white face grew whiter, and she
began to tremble. Putting out shaking hands, she raised herself
by the arms of the folding-chair and stood upright.

Nearer and nearer came the thunder of the approaching sound,
mingled with startled exclamations and the noise of trampling feet
from the direction of the kitchen tent.

Slowly

By Netta Syrett 247

Slowly, mechanically almost, she dragged herself to the entrance,
and stood clinging to the canvas there. By the time she had
reached it, Broomhurst had flung himself from the saddle, and had
thrown the reins to one of the men.

Mrs. Drayton stared at him with wide bright eyes as he hastened
towards her.

" I thought you— you are not— " she began, and then her
teeth began to chatter. "I am so cold ! " she said, in a little weak
voice.

Broomhurst took her hand, and led her over the threshold back
into the tent.

" Don't be so frightened," he implored ; " I came to tell you
first. I thought it wouldn't frighten you so much as—— Your—
Drayton is —very ill. They are bringing him. I —"

He paused. She gazed at him a moment with parted lips,
then she broke into a horrible discordant laugh, and stood clinging
to the back of a chair.

Broomhurst started back.

" Do you understand what I mean ? " he whispered. "Kathleen,
for God's sake— don't— he is dead."

He looked over his shoulder as he spoke, her shrill laughter
ringing in his ears. The white glare and dazzle of the plain
stretched before him, framed by the entrance to the tent ; far off,
against the horizon, there were moving black specks, which he
knew to be the returning servants with their still burden.

They were bringing John Drayton home.

One

248 Thy Heart's Desire


V


One afternoon, some months later, Broomhurst climbed the steep
lane leading to the cliffs of a little English village by the sea. He
had already been to the inn, and had been shown by the proprietress
the house where Mrs. Drayton lodged.

"The lady was out, but the gentleman would likely find her if
he went to the cliffs —down by the bay, or thereabouts," her land-
lady explained, and, obeying her directions, Broomhurst presently
emerged from the shady woodland path on to the hillside over-
hanging the sea.

He glanced eagerly round him, and then with a sudden quicken-
ing of the heart, walked on over the springy heather to where she
sat. She turned when the rustling his footsteps made through
the bracken was near enough to arrest her attention, and looked
up at him as he came. Then she rose slowly and stood waiting
for him. He came up to her without a word and seized both her
hands, devouring her face with his eyes. Something he saw there
repelled him. Slowly he let her hands fall, still looking at her
silently. " You are not glad to see me, and I have counted the
hours," he said at last in a dull toneless voice.

Her lips quivered. " Don't be angry with me— I can't help it
—I'm not glad or sorry for anything now," she answered, and her
voice matched his for greyness.

They sat down together on a long flat stone half embedded in
a wiry clump of whortleberries. Behind them the lonely hill-
sides rose, brilliant with yellow bracken and the purple of heather.
Before them stretched the wide sea. It was a soft grey day.
Streaks of pale sunlight trembled at moments far out on the water.

The

By Netta Syrett 249

The tide was rising in the little bay above which they sat, and
Broomhurst watched the lazy foam-edged waves slipping over the
uncovered rocks towards the shore, then sliding back as though
for very weariness they despaired of reaching it. The muffled
pulsing sound of the sea filled the silence. Broomhurst thought
suddenly of hot Eastern sunshine, of the whirr of insect wings on the
still air, and the creaking of a wheel in the distance. He turned
and looked at his companion.

" I have come thousands of miles to see you," he said ; " aren't
you going to speak to me now I am here ? "

"Why did you come ? I told you not to come," she answered,
falteringly. " I ——;" she paused.

" And I replied that I should follow you if you remember,"
he answered, still quietly. " I came because I would not listen to
what you said then, at that awful time. You didn't know yourself
what you said. No wonder ! I have given you some months,
and now I have come."

There was silence between them. Broomhurst saw that she
was crying ; her tears fell fast on to her hands, that were clasped in
her lap. Her face, he noticed, was thin and drawn.

Very gently he put his arm round her shoulder and drew her
nearer to him. She made no resistance— it seemed that she did
not notice the movement ; and his arm dropped at his side.

" You asked me why I had come ? You think it possible that
three months can change one, very thoroughly, then ? " he said in
a cold voice.

"I not only think it possible, I have proved it," she replied
wearily.

He turned round and faced her.

" You did love me, Kathleen ! " he asserted ; " you never said
so in words, but I know it," he added fiercely.

"Yes,

250 Thy Heart's Desire

"Yes, I did."

" And— —You mean that you don't now ? "

Her voice was very tired. " Yes I can't help it," she answered,
"it has gone— utterly."

The grey sea slowly lapped the rocks. Overhead the sharp
scream of a gull cut through the stillness. It was broken again,
a moment afterwards, by a short hard laugh from the man.

"Don't!" she whispered, and laid a hand swiftly on his arm.
" Do you think it isn't worse for me ? I wish to God I did love
you," she cried passionately. " Perhaps it would make me forget
that to all intents and purposes I am a murderess."

Broomhurst met her wide despairing eyes with an amazement
which yielded to sudden pitying comprehension.

" So that is it, my darling ? You are worrying about that ?
You who were as loyal, as—— "

She stopped him with a frantic gesture.

" Don't ! don't ! " she wailed. " If you only knew ; let me try
to tell you— will you ?" she urged pitifully. "It may be better if
I tell some one —if I don't keep it all to myself, and think, and
think."

She clasped her hands tight, with the old gesture he remem-
bered when she was struggling for self-control, and waited a
moment.

Presently she began to speak in a low hurried tone : " It began
before you came. I know now what the feeling was that I was
afraid to acknowledge to myself. I used to try and smother it,
I used to repeat things to myself all day— poems, stupid rhymes—
anything to keep my thoughts quite underneath —but I— hated
John before you came ! We had been married nearly a year then.
I never loved him. Of course you are going to say : 'Why did
you marry him ?' " She looked drearily over the placid sea.

"Why

By Netta Syrett 251

" Why did I marry him ? I don't know ; for the reason that
hundreds of ignorant inexperienced girls marry, I suppose. My
home wasn't a happy one. I was miserable, and oh,— restless.
I wonder if men know what it feels like to be restless ? Some-
times I think they can't even guess. John wanted me very badly
—nobody wanted me at home particularly. There didn't seem to
be any point in my life. Do you understand ? . . . . Of course
being alone with him in that little camp in that silent plain"—
she shuddered —" made things worse. My nerves went all to
pieces. Everything he said— his voice— his accent— his walk—
the way he ate— irritated me so that I longed to rush out some
times and shriek —and go mad. Does it sound ridiculous to you
to be driven mad by such trifles ? I only know I used to get up
from the table sometimes and walk up and down outside, with
both hands over my mouth to keep myself quiet. And all the
time I hated myself— how I hated myself ! I never had a word
from him that wasn t gentle and tender. I believe he loved the
ground I walked on. Oh, it is awful to be loved like that,
when you— " She drew in her breath with a sob. I— I —it
made me sick for him to come near me —to touch me." She
stopped a moment.

Broomhurst gently laid his hand on her quivering one. " Poor
little girl ! " he murmured.

" Then you came," she said, " and before long I had another
feeling to fight against. At first I thought it couldn't be true
that I loved you— it would die down. I think I was frightened
at the feeling ; I didn't know it hurt so to love any one."

Broomhurst stirred a little. " Go on," he said tersely.

" But it didn't die," she continued in a trembling whisper, and
the other awful feeling grew stronger and stronger— hatred ; no,
that is not the word —loathing for— for —John. I fought against

it.

252 Thy Heart's Desire

it. Yes," she cried feverishly, clasping and unclasping her hands,
"Heaven knows I fought it with all my strength, and reasoned
with myself, and —oh, I did everything, but—— " Her quick-
falling tears made speech difficult.

"Kathleen!" Broomhurst urged desperately, "you couldn't
help it, you poor child. You say yourself you struggled against
your feelings— you were always gentle. Perhaps he didn't
know."

"But he did— he did," she wailed, " it is just that. I hurt
him a hundred times a day ; he never said so, but I knew it ; and
yet I couldn't be kind to him —except in words —and he understood.
And after you came it was worse in one way, for he knew. I
felt he knew that I loved you. His eyes used to follow me like a
dog's, and I was stabbed with remorse, and I tried to be good to
him, but I couldn't."

" But —he didn't suspect— he trusted you," began Broomhurst.
" He had every reason. No woman was ever so loyal, so—— "

" Hush," she almost screamed. " Loyal ! it was the least I
could do —to stop you, I mean— when you—— After all, I knew it
without your telling me. I had deliberately married him without
loving him. It was my own fault. I felt it. Even if I couldn't
prevent his knowing that I hated him, I could prevent that. It
was my punishment. I deserved it for daring to marry without
love. But I didn't spare John one pang, after all," she added
bitterly. " He knew what I felt towards him —I don't think he
cared about anything else. You say I mustn't reproach myself ?
When I went back to the tent that morning— when you —when
I stopped you from saying you loved me, he was sitting at the
table with his head buried in his hands ; he was crying— bitterly :
I saw him —it is terrible to see a man cry —and I stole away
gently, but he saw me. I was torn to pieces, but I couldn't go

to

By Netta Syrett 253

to him. I knew he would kiss me, and I shuddered to think of
it. It seemed more than ever not to be borne that he should do
that —when I knew you loved me."

" Kathleen," cried her lover again, " don't dwell on it all so
terribly—— don't —"

" How can I forget ? " she answered despairingly, "and then "—
she lowered her voice —" oh, I can't tell you— all the time, at the
back of my mind somewhere, there wasaburningwish that he might
die. I used to lie awake at night, and do what I would to stifle it,
that thought used to scorch me, I wished it so intensely. Do you
believe that by willing one can bring such things to pass ? " she
asked, looking at Broomhurst with feverishly bright eyes. " No ?
—well, I don't know— I tried to smother it. I really tried,
but it was there, whatever other thoughts I heaped on the top.
Then, when I heard the horse galloping across the plain that
morning, I had a sick fear that it was you. I knew something had
happened, and my first thought when I saw you alive and well,
and knew that it was John, was, that it was too good to be true. I
believe I laughed like a maniac, didn't I ? .... Not to blame ?
Why, if it hadn't been for me he wouldn't have died. The
men say they saw him sitting with his head uncovered in the
burning sun, his face buried in his hands— just as I had seen
him the day before. He didn't trouble to be careful— he was too
wretched."

She paused, and Broomhurst rose and began to pace the little
hillside path at the edge of which they were seated.

Presently he came back to her.

" Kathleen, let me take care of you," he implored, stooping
towards her. " We have only ourselves to consider in this
matter. Will you come to me at once ?"

She shook her head sadly.

Broomhurst

254 Thy Heart's Desire

Broomhurst set his teeth, and the lines round his mouth
deepened. He threw himself down beside her on the heather.

" Dear," he urged still gently, though his voice showed he
was controlling himself with an effort. " You are morbid about
this. You have been alone too much—you are ill. Let me take
care of you: I can, Kathleen—and I love you. Nothing but
morbid fancy makes you imagine you are in any way respon-
sible for—Drayton's death. You can't bring him back to life,
and—— "

" No, " she sighed drearily, " and if I could, nothing would be
altered. Though I am mad with self-reproach, I feel that—it
was all so inevitable. If he were alive and well before me this
instant my feeling towards him wouldn't have changed. If he
spoke to me, he would say, ' My dear ' and I should loathe him.
Oh, I know! It is that that makes it so awful. "

" But if you acknowledge it, " Broomhurst struck in eagerly,
" will you wreck both of our lives for the sake of vain regrets ?
Kathleen, you never will. "

He waited breathlessly for her answer.

" I won't wreck both our lives by marrying again without love
on my side, " she replied firmly.

" I will take the risk, " he said. " You have loved me—you
will love me again. You are crushed and dazed now with brood-
ing over this—this trouble, but—— "

" But I will not allow you to take the risk, " Kathleen
answered. " What sort of woman should I be to be willing
again to live with a man I don't love? I have come to know
that there are things one owes to oneself. Self-respect is one of
them. I don't know how it has come to be so, but all my old
feeling for you has gone. It is as though it had burnt itself out.
I will not offer grey ashes to any man. "

Broomhurst

By Netta Syrett 255

Broomhurst looking up at her pale, set face, knew that her
words were final, and turned his own aside with a groan.

" Ah! " cried Kathleen with a little break in her voice, " don't.
Go away and be happy and strong, and all that I loved in you.
I am so sorry—so sorry to hurt you. I—— " her voice faltered
miserably. " I—I only bring trouble to people. "

There was a long pause.

" Did you never think that there is a terrible vein of irony
running through the ordering of this world? " she said presently.
" It is a mistake to think our prayers are not answered—they are.
In due time we get our heart's desire—when we have ceased to
care for it. "

" I haven't yet got mine, " Broomhurst answered doggedly,
" and I shall never cease to care for it. "

She smiled a little with infinite sadness.

" Listen, Kathleen, " he said. They had both risen and he
stood before her, looking down at her. " I will go now, but in
a year's time I shall come back. I will not give you up. You
shall love me yet. "

" Perhaps—I don't think so, " she answered wearily.

Broomhurst looked at her trembling lips a moment in silence,
then he stooped and kissed both her hands instead.

" I will wait till you tell me you love me, " he said.

She stood watching him out of sight. He did not look back,
and she turned with swimming eyes to the grey sea and the
transient gleams of sunlight that swept like tender smiles across
its face.





MLA citation: Syrett, Netta. "Thy Heart's Desire." The Yellow Book 2 (July 1894): 228-55. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. [Date of access]. http://www.1890s.ca/HTML.aspx?s=YBV2_syrett_heart.html