The Broken Heart by Dora Sigerson Shorter
Angelas's father had returned home. He had come upon her birthday;
she was twelve years old. She had almost forgotten her father, it was
so long since she had seen him. Not since she had left India herself,
seven years ago. And Angela's mother, she had not come. It was long
before Angela clearly understood why, and why there came no more the
beautiful letters she so loved, from that mother, who was named Angela
It was when Angela's father came home that her irresponsible, short
life changed to her. The first night of his arrival, she had awakened
to find him gazing down upon her with a look she could not understand,
so eager, so hungry, so despairing it was. He then sank upon his knees
by her cot, putting his arms about her, saying, as though speaking to a
woman, Comfort me, my daughter; comfort me. She put her little hands
about his neck, and, with the instinctive gesture of a mother hushing
her babe, pressed his face upon her tiny breast.
Poor father! she said; I will sing you to sleep.
She started a lullaby in a high, childish treble, which, after a few
spasmodic efforts to continue, wavered off into silence.
When she woke it was morning; she dressed with speed and impatience.
A new responsibility had dawned upon her. No doll had ever been added
to her over-numerous family that had given her thoughts so deep as
these. There had been a last letter from that dear dream-mother, and in
it she had written, I shall be always with you, though you will not
Always with her, Angela thought; she who had been so far away: she
who had been invisible for yearsnearer, though invisible still. Then
in the letter she had also read, Comfort your father; be good to him:
his is a deep and terrible trouble.
Yes! that was the sentence that thrilled her. Here was
responsibility! All the motherhood that lies in the breast of the
woman-child was awakened. All the care that bad gone to the large
family of wax images was withdrawn. Not without a struggle; not without
a tear; not without a last comforting mother-touch to the dresses and a
more easy placing of stuffed limbs when the babies were laid reverently
away in their box. Not without a lingering, backward look at
Alexander's wide, blue eyes, and Angel's bald though much-respected
Yes, she would comfort Father, though what was his great hidden
trouble she could not imagine. He never spoke to her of trouble. He was
quiet and grave. He seldom smiled, but he never cried. Most big people
were quietnot so quiet as Father, perhapsbut then, big people were
so hard to understand. Why, they laughed when Angel was run over, and
her beautiful china legs, with the blue boots on, cut right off. And
yet it seemed as though her own little heart must break when she saw
the dreadful accident. She remembered, too, how when little Charlie
from next door had come screaming into their hall, saying his father
was lying on the floor and would not waken; that he was deadshe
remembered how the old nurse, who had taken care of her since she came
from India, had rushed to the next house at the child's cries, to be
met by a smiling man-servant, who whispered something to her, and she
had gone back clicking her tongue against her palate, as she did when
Angela was naughty. Angela remembered how she and the little boy, being
told to run away and play, sat beneath a bush watching the house afraid
to move till the mystery was cleared up. How she imagined the
man-servant must have killed the boy's father; how the boy paled when
she told him so, yet showed the glimmer of an excitement at the
possession of a tragedy. How cruel they thought those grown-up people,
whose world was so much calmer than their own. How amazed they were,
and even disappointed, to see, after a couple of hours, the boy's
father walk out of the housea little unsteady, perhapswith a
flushed face and a dim eye. Not till she was grown up did she know that
there was a tragedy, after all.
When she had dressed and breakfasted, she ran to her father. She
found him in his study, walking up and down, up and down, as if he
could not tire. She slipped in and bid by the door, and, as he passed,
jumped out upon him. He did not start or laugh, as she had meant him
to, but the lines about his forehead deepened. He took her into his
arms, and, seating himself with her upon his lap, gazed into her little
Not a feature of hers, not a look! he said. O my God! He put her
down and forgot her, walking up and down the room without pause. The
child, hurt and frightened, commenced to cry. At the sound he stopped
and gathered her to him.
Poor little one! he soothed her; do not cry. Tears are not for the
young; and the old, he added pitifully, are denied them. Putting the
child down, he took her by the hand. Have you nothing pretty to show
me? he said.
The child skipped beside him like a young lamb.
There's a nest, she cried, in Donald's Field. But it is a long
way, a very long way, maybe a mile.
He smiled down upon her. I think I can manage it.
She got her hat, and they started together; her joy was high, and she
chatted to her father incessantly, only receiving incoherent answers
from him in return. She felt she was doing her duty nobly. After a time
she got weary, and stumbled often as she went. She asked her father
frequently, Was he tired? and looked doubtful when he answered, No.
The more exhausted she got the more she imagined he must be also. She
wished she could offer to carry him; her heart was full of tenderness
towards him. When they arrived at the field she ran forward. She
climbed the stile to reach to him her hand. He must have smiled had he
noticed her solicitude. She thought he must be getting blind, he was so
heedless as he walked; he would have stumbled over tufts of grass and
straying brambles, had she not been there to guide him. She thought he
could not see well, his gaze was so distant. The truth was he saw more
than the present. His eyes were dulled by the pressure of lost dreams
against them. H is ears filled with the notes of a lost voice. He went
half blind and half deaf.
She reached the bush where the nest was. She let go his hand, and,
springing forward, drew the branches asunder; but her face fell as she
looked. The nest was broken, and the young birds destroyed or stolen.
Oh! she cried, they are gone!
He stooped beside her.
Alas! the pretty home.
And my little birds, where are they, my father?
God knows, he answered bitterly. The birds are gone and the nest
broken; the destroyer has been here too. It is always so.
Does he come to all the nests? she said. And he answered, following
his own bitter thoughts,
The child was silent. They returned home. She clung to her father's
hand, too weary to speak. She was afraid to say how tired she was, for
fear he should offer to carry her. He strode on, with long, quick steps
that she found it difficult to keep up to. Her lips were quivering, and
the tears would keep rolling down her cheeks. She turned away her head
from him so that he could not know, for fear of troubling him. She was
full of weariness and grief. Had he not said all the nests were broken
in the world and the little birds within them dead? She ran by his
side, choking down her tears, for the young are very strong in their
When she at last reached home, and away from her father's eyes, she
ran into her nurse's arms and let her tears fall.
The good woman hushed her and understood.
He forgets you in his own trouble, she muttered. It is not right.
She smoothed the child's hair and looked into her face. What a pity
you are not like your mother, darling; it would have drawn him to you.
But, being like himself, he shuts you too away from happiness along
with his own heart.
The child dried her tears to listen to her nurse. Was she saying
something against her father?
I will ask him to let you go to your aunt's, the woman continued.
It's not right for a child to be in this sad house.
The child flung herself away. What! leave her father! Never! She was
going to live with him alwaysalwaysto mind him and comfort him.
The woman was aghast at her rage. But your pretty cousins. Think of
the games you can have with them.
I won't go! the child cried. I will stay with Father.
She ran downstairs and opened the door of his room. He was sitting at
the fire with a long tress of hair upon his hand. He was smoothing it
upon his fingers and curling it around them. She thought she heard him
sob. She ran to him and put her arms around his neck. He drew himself
away and hastily put the lock of hair into his pocket-book.
With the strange wisdom of a child, she knew she was not to ask what
he had been doing. She saw that his eyes were dry, and laughed. What
made her think he was crying? Grown-up people never cry. She laughed
I am not going awaynever, she said. I shall not go to my aunt's,
but will stay with you.
What you like, dearest, he answered.
When I am grown up, she continued, we will have a little cottage
all covered with roses, and I will do all the work for you; but it will
be long, long years before I am grown up.
She felt him sigh, Oh! the years, the lonely years.
But I will be with you, she said; you won't be lonely then. He
stroked her hair.
I love you, she whispered, nestling closer to him.
And I you, he answered. He kissed her, and then her nurse came to
take her away. She half hoped he would tell her not to go, but he did
not. Before she was at the door he had his head upon his hands, gazing
into the fire. Twice she called to him Good-night before he heard,
and turned to her with a start to answer,
Good-night, my darling.
While she was with him he never bid her go or stay, it seemed
indifferent to him which she did. She is nothing to him, the nurse
said to her fellow-servant. And the child heard and sobbed herself to
sleep. When the morning came she went to him.
You do love me, she said; and he answered that he did. And you
could not possibly do without me. He answered as she wished; and from
that day she was with him every minute she could be. She felt she was
indispensable to him, and that without her he would be wretched. From
being childish and backward for her age, she became precocious and
clever. From being
full of dreams and fond of playing, she became practical and busy.
She brought him his slippers, and knitted and sewed for him hideous
things that he never wore. She waited upon him like a slave, and he
took it all without notice. With all her efforts the child could not
break through the doors of knowledge and years, and so reach and
understand him. This in a vague way she was conscious of.
Often she played her silent games at his feet, hoping he would not
resist their pleasure and join her, but he never did. She played her
little tunes upon the piano, a performance the mistress in the school
was so proud of, and paused often for his approval; but it never came.
Only when she drew his head upon her shoulder, or was directly speaking
to him, did he seem to really know she was with him, and wake from his
dreaming. Yet she was full of her quaint conceit that he could not do
Every morning she arose, she counted another day off her yearsI
will be a woman soon. She plied herself to her tasks, and worked until
she grew pale and tired. She won prizes at school, and praise.
One night as she sat with her father in the garden, he spoke as he
had never done before in her presence. Perhaps it was the great sad
beauty of Nature in the night that beat upon his heart, till it broke
with a cry.
Where are you? he cried, in a voice of agony. Come to me.
The child was gathering roses in the dusk, some way from him. She was
startled by his passion, and kept still.
I cannot live without you, he continued. O God, the loneliness!
the loneliness! The child rose and threw herself into his outstretched
arms. I am here, she sobbed. I will not leave you again.
The man pulled himself together. It is you, poor child! poor child!
She never forgot that night in the following days. Not an hour was
she from him, that she could help. Even in the night she would often
awake, and fancying she heard that cry, Come to me, would creep to
his door to listen.
It was on one of these wanderings that a great fear came to her. As
she crouched listening by the door, she heard her father's voice speak
in a tone of deep agony.
O destroyer of the beautiful! he cried, why have you pursued me,
to rob me of my heart's treasure, and leave my home to me desolate?
He paused, and the child could hear him walking restlessly up and
down the room. Her heart beat in great blows. Who was with her father?
Who was this terrible destroyer who killed the young birds, and was now
inside with her father? Who was he who had robbed that dear father of
his heart's treasure. Would he open the door, and fall upon her, a
little girl, to devour her? She clutched the handle to prevent it from
turning. Her father, hearing the rattle, cried out, Come, and she
pushed the door and sprang to his side. She hid in his arms, and only
after a moment's comforting did she spy from his safe keeping to look
about the room. There was no one there. She sat up in her father's
Why are you here? he said. What has frightened you?
She did not answer. The warmth and light, the comfort of his presence
dispelled her alarm. She did not remember that she had been so afraid.
The man looked into her little face, so flushed with sleep and
excitement. His gaze dwelt upon the smooth brow that bore no wrinkle of
heavy thought, on the clear, innocent eyes that had not recognised sin,
on the round cheeks glowing with childhood, on the parted mouth that
was still bowed in its baby outline, with never a trace upon it yet to
show an evil hour.
Little soft face, he whispered, so precious with youth, must you
one day change like mine so old, so hard, so sorrowful? Will you,
too, shun the sunlight, and only cry in the shadow for the great
destroyer to come and give you oblivion?
The child pressed closer, and gazed about the room.
Do not let him have me! she cried in terror. Hold me tight! The
man at her movement awoke from his thoughts. Poor little one! he is
not here, he said; he will not get you. I will keep you from him. He
smiled bitterly. I will keep you from him.
He bore the child up to her room, and stayed beside her till she
After this he became the one thought of her days, and his love and
dependence upon her, as she imagined it, became alike her joy and
alarm. Nearly a year passed since his return, and she became old for
her short years. Already she had mapped out her future interwoven with
his. She had studied with one intent. Her reading was beyond her, but
she persevered. She frequented his room in his absence to read some of
the books he read, which she did without in the least understanding
them. She saw him grow more grey and weary, and thought he leant more
heavily upon her.
So the years began to roll past. The child became a girl, and the
girl a maiden. All these different periods were devoted to the same
idealto be her father's prop and comfort. In very truth she was the
foundation of his home. Her young shoulders took the responsibility of
life upon them early. With the little money he allowed her, she set the
domestic wheels in motion, and they never creaked. He stinted and
saved, keeping the house from every luxury, grudging himself, and
therefore her, everything save the barest necessities. And why? Because
he was laying by a fortune in her name.
He was her ideal; she worshipped him as only those who are young
enough to keep an ideal can. She would sit in the room watching him
work, never knowing his work was one that would leave him free, when
finished, to go from her for ever. Yet that was the day he longed and
prayed for over his papers. She thought him completely happy, in his
quiet way. And when a friend once said in her presence, Since he came
from India he has been a broken man, it came upon her with a shock.
Was there any side of him she did not knowsomething a stranger would
notice and not herself, she who had lived beside him for years? She
watched him closely, but could discover no difference from what he had
been since she had known him.
Just in this way do many go through life beside one constant
companion, in whose heart they dream themselves the sole beloved
tenant, whose every thought they fancy they can read. And all the time
the soul beside them, even while they stand cheek to cheek and lip to
lip, is shrieking, broken, bleeding, alone, so terribly alone, going
down, down, down to its destined end.
One day the man raised his head, and closed his books with a sigh of
It is done, he said, at last.
He became aware of eyes watching him, and turned to see a young man.
He was struck with the face, so fair was it with youth. It flashed upon
him that such was the boy in the poem, who started up the Alpine
heights with his bannerExcelsior! Hope! Onward! Life! All mottoes
written upon the bright brow, in the clear eyes, on the smiling,
nervous mouth. Under his gaze the youth flushed and stammered,
I want your help.
The man was surprised. What is it? he questioned. Your daughter,
the youth faltered; I love her; she will not marry mewill you help
My daughter! She is a little child, the father replied, smiling.
She is old enough to know love, the young man answered, smiling
too. But who are you?
My father was Gerald Donaldson.
A good fellow, a dear fellowand he is dead?
He died a month after you left Indiafive years ago.
Only five years, and they so long, so long!
I am not badly off, the young man pursued. I have two thousand a
yearhe smiledand expectations. I have plenty of friends who can
tell you all you wish to know about me personally.
Angela's father looked upon him. You have a good face. It is worth
all the credentials in the world. I could trust you. Where have I seen
I have been introduced to you four times, the young man said,
laughing. But you always forgot me the moment I was out of sight.
The man apologized. I will forget the slight, the young man said,
smiling, if you will induce your daughter not to follow your example.
But, oh, sir, he added seriously, I love her dearly, and I beg you to
speak to her in my favour.
Angela will have money whether she marries or not, the father said,
as though thinking aloud. Only a little, but enough to keep her in
comfort. It took me five long years to make it, but at last I have done
it, thank God!
The youth said eagerly: I do not care for that. I have plenty for
both. Only tell her to be kind to me.
The older man looked at him. She is but a little girl, he said,
not old enough.
She is seventeen, the young man argued, and we can wait a couple
of years, if you wish.
Seventeen! The father looked into the garden, where his daughter
walked. Angela, come here, he called.
She came through the open window to his side. He looked at her little
slender figure. What was this? It had developed from childish angles
into soft curves and dimples. He looked into her face, and beheld there
upon her cheek the flush of womanhood. Her eyes no longer gazed upon
the world as though they were still new to it, but were deep with soft
emotions coming from within. Her lips had lost the baby roundness, and
had been modelled into sweet lines, that told of smiles, and power, and
gentleness. He felt shy of her, as though he did not know her.
You are a stranger, he said, dropping her hands.
The girl was wounded. Father! she said, and could say no more. She
could have told his every movementevery wrinkle that the years had
added, every new tress of white that came among his brown hair. She
knew his step along the road before she saw him. She could almost tell
how he looked at every hour of the day, what his rare smile was like,
and what the habitual frown that sorrow had laid upon his forehead.
Forgive me, dear, he said, drawing her to him.
The young man smiled nervously upon them. I shall leave you
together, he said anxiously; you will do the best you can for me,
When the door closed after him, the man turned to his daughter. So
you will not marry him? he said gently. Why?
I had not thought of marrying, the girl answered, looking into his
eyes with unfaltering gaze. Do you not love him?
I had not thought of loving, said the girl, flushing softly.
Why, what a hard heart! replied the father, smiling; and yet he is
handsome and honest.
It is not hard, the daughter replied; but it is already fullI
think there is no room for any one there but you. She wound her arms
round his neck, he took her upon his knees, as he used to do when she
was a child. He spoke to her of his property. He told her that
everything was straight now, and that she would have quite a little
For years, he said, I was afraid you would lose it; but it is safe
at last, little girl. She was glad for his sake, but she felt she did
not want more than she had. She was quite happy, quite content, as long
as he was with her.
You love me, too? she said, in a childlike way. I love you very
And you could not do without me? she questioned playfully.
I could not indeed, dear little comrade. Now go to bed and sleep
And you will sleep well, dear father, now your business worry is
Yes, to-night I shall sleep wellfor I am tired, so tired.
He kissed her upon the face and hair, and smiled upon her as she blew
a kiss to him from the door. She had never seen him so gay. She thought
what a lover he must have been when he was young, and how handsome. She
imagined a brideher motherbeautiful enough to be his mate; but
imagination failed. She marshalled several dream-mothers before her,
but none were lovely enough for him.
Oh, mother, she said, if I could only remember your face!
In truth her mother was not beautiful, but enough to drag a man's
soul through the gates of death with her, and not leave go her hold
upon him till he followed.
So Angela lay upon her bed quite happy.
Father's comrade, that was what she would be. She fell asleep to
dream of it, and then awoke with a start, as though something had
happened. What had she heard? She did not know; only something had
awakened hersome noise. She jumped from her bed, cast a wrapper about
her. There were confused voices in the nurse's roomthe old nurse and
the fellow-servant talking excitedly together. She heard them asking
each other, What did you hear? So they, too, did not know what had
happened. Her first thought was for her father. She must go to him, and
see if he was in danger. She ran downstairs upon her little bare feet,
and paused at the study door.
There was no sound. But at the hall door came a soft knocking. Could
this have been the noise that woke her? She opened it slightly, and
asked who was there.
It is I, Alfred Donaldson, the young man said, coming into the
hall. Angela, what is the matter? II was walking pastin truth he
had been standing beneath her window for an hourand I heard a shot.
I don't know; I was asleep, she said, as she crossed the hall to
the door of her father's room. She opened it softly, and heard her
father's voice, infinitely tender.
Angela, Angela, come to me, Angela.
I am here, father, she replied, as she sprang into the room. The
light was still burning. She could see her father in the arm-chair
before the fire. His head hung upon his breast. There was a strange red
upon his cheek. In the hand that lay upon his knees was a pistol, the
grey smoke still hovering about it.
The women came clattering down the stairs, excited and afraid. What
was the shot?
Where had it come from? They stood at the open door, and saw the
tragedythe dying man, with his great selfish love at peace at last.
And there was the little white daughter, standing in the middle of the
room, afraid to go nearer. She was nothing to himnothing at all! She
cried in a terrified voice, Father! father! and at the sound he moved
his arms towards her with a beautiful smile. Angela, Angela, after all
the yearsat last.
The girl clung to him, and the red stain came upon her hair from his
But even then his head turned away from her in the stillness of
death, and she rose and walked blindly into the loving arms that closed
around her and held her through her great sorrow.