King Billy of
King Billy was given to strolling up and down the streets of Ballarat
when that eviscerated city was merely in process of disembowelment,
before alluvial mining gave way to quartz-crushing, when the
individual had a chance, if a very vague one, of sudden and delightful
fortune. The Ballarat blacks were a scaly lot, to talk of them like
ill-fed hogs, as men were wont to do. They dwined and dwindled, as
natives will before the resources of civilisation: the bloodthirsty
ones got killed out; the rumthirsty ones died out; the wild corroboree
was reduced to a poverty-stricken imitation of its former glory. King
Billy's authority grew less with the increase of his clothes. The
brass plate with his name on it was about the last relic of his
precarious power, and was chiefly valued as a means of notifying the
public generally that they might stand drinks to a monarch if they saw
fit and were not too humble. He was not haughty, and never presumed on
his plate, as parvenus will. He came of an ancient stock, and could
afford to condescend, even if he could not afford to pay for drinks.
He was very kind to children,white children, of course,and was
hale-fellow-well-met with many of them.
He was particularly fond of Annie Colborn, whose father was a
magistrate and a gold commissioner, and a person of very great
importance. Whether or not King Billy was wise in his generation, and
out of the unwritten Scriptures of the somber bush had culled a maxim
inculcating the wisdom of making friends of the sons of Mammon, I
cannot say, but he was always good to Annie. For my own part, I do not
believe the simple-hearted old king had any such notion inside his
thick antipodean skull. He was good because he was not bad, which is
the very best morality after all, and a great advance on much we hear
of. And, besides, he was sometimes hungry, and Mr. Colborn's Chinese
cook was very haughty, and not to be approached except through an
intermediary. And who so capable of conciliating Wong as Annie? Wong
would make her cakes even when his pigtail hung despondently from his
aching head after an opium debauch, and his cheeks were shining with
anything but gladness; for if you get drunk very often on opium you
Old Billy was mostly to be found where there was a chance of a drink;
but if the fountains were dried up, or he had been insulted by some
democratic, revolutionary, king-hating miner knocking his high hat
down over his eyes, he usually went up to Mr. Colborn's place, and sat
on the fence, or on a log outside the gate. So he was often very
melancholy when Annie came out. One day his hat was very, very badly
"Your hat is very bad to-day, King Billy," said six-year-old Annie, as
she stood in front of him critically, with her head on one side.
Without knowing it, the child had come to look upon the state of the
poor king's hat as emblematical of his state of mind. When it shut up
like a closed concertina his barometer was low.
"Yes, missy," said the king; "white man knock 'um over eyes, and"
with a rub down his face"skin 'um nose."
She inspected his nose carefullythough from a certain distance,
because her own nose was very good, both inside and out, and she knew
the king never got washed unless it rained when he was very drunk. And
this was the end of summer. It had not rained since November.
"There is not very much skin off," said Annie. "You had better wash
The king made a wry face and changed the conversation.
"You got 'um hat, Missy Annie? One hat baal brokum, allasame white
fellow hat. Bad hat, King Billy bad; black fellow, white fellow
He peered into his hat, and, trying to straighten it out, put his fist
through the side. Poor Billy looked as if he could cry.
"You stop a minute," said Annie, and, flying indoors, she brought out
a very good high hat indeed. "Budgeree!" thought the king, that was a
good hat. He could go down the streets like a king indeed, able to
hold up his head with any rich man in Ballarat. He tried it on, and
though it was much too big, he knew it shone. And the glory of a hat
is in its shining as much as its shape; even a black fellow knows
But that hat very nearly led to serious trouble. For one thing, Mr.
Colborn missed it; and never thinking Annie had given it away, when he
saw the king sitting on the fence decorated with it, he stopped and
"Where did you get that hat, you old thief?" asked the magistrate,
without any politeness to him who ruled the land before white men
broke into the country. Some in authority are polite to those they
dispossess; the Prussians, for instance, to the miserable King Billys
who strut about the empire. But the Anglo-Saxon only respects himself,
and even that to a limited extent, in new conquests.
The question troubled King Billy greatly. He did not know that Mr.
Colborn would as soon have thought of murdering Annie as of bullying
her; so he lied promptly: "Me buy 'um, Mistah Cobon!"
Mr. Colborn took it off of his head, and saw that it was his, as he
had thought. What he would have said I do not know, for just then he
heard a voice behind him:
"Papa, it is my fault; I gave it to King Billy."
Colborn turned round and took her up, letting fall the hat as he did
so. Billy made a jump, picked it up, and, in his agitation, brushed it
carefully the wrong way.
"My dear, if you gave it to him it's all right. But why didn't the old
fool tell me?"
"He's not an old fool, papa, and you must not say so. He's a good man,
and I think he thought you would be angry with me. Didn't you, King
Billy?" And the king, with a smile of conscious rectitude, admitted it
Mr. Colborn gave him sixpence; and he gave Annie a great many kisses,
declaring, with uncommon thoughtlessness, that whatever she did was
right, and that she could give the king all his house, and Australia
to boot. Whereon King Billy smiled a smile that was portentous, and
showed his teeth to the uttermost recesses of his ample mouth. Looking
down, he surveyed the rest of his clothes, which in parts resembled
the child's definition of a net as a lot of holes tied together with
string, and, looking up, he inspected Mr. Colborn as if estimating the
resources of his wardrobe. But being urgently smitten with the
necessity of getting rid of his sixpence, he shambled off into the
town. Other matters might wait; that admitted of no delay.
The mind of King Billy was not a big mind; it would no more have taken
in an abstract idea than his gunyah would have accommodated a grand
piano. He was as simple as sunlight, and to resolve his intellect into
seven colours would want the most ingenious spectroscope. But he could
make an inference from a positive fact, and, having made it, he did
not allow more remote deductions to trouble his legitimate conclusion.
He ceased to fear Mr. Colborn, and began to look upon the magistrate's
property as if it were at least half his own. So he got very drunk on
the hospitality of a new chum miner who had been successful, and
presently, presuming on his new possessions, got into a fight with his
entertainer and a disrespectful subking of his own blacks, and was
reduced to worse rags than ever.
Next morning he sat outside the magistrate's house, on the lowest log
he could find, and when Mr. Colborn came out he tackled him with the
air of a subject king demanding redress of his suzerain.
"Well, Billy, what is it?" asked the suzerain.
"You belong gublement?" said Billy the king, with a question, an
implied doubt, and a great complaint in his voice. Colborn laughed.
"Why, yes, Billy; I belong to the government, I suppose."
"Then," said Billy, "what you say to white fellow make 'um black
fellow drunk, knock 'um all about? Call you that gublement?" And he
showed his kingly robe, which had once been a frock-coat, with great
However, he met with no favour, and was told that he should not get
drunkthat it served him right; with which magisterial decision
Colborn got on his horse and rode off to the flat.
The king sat down sadly and considered thickly in his slow brain.
Annie did not come out, and he knew better than to ask for her, for
Mr. Colborn's niece, who kept house for him, was but newly come from
home, and thought all black fellows congenital murderers, which indeed
they are in some parts of the north. So Billy sat and waited, for he
wanted a new coat. How could he be respected in one whose natural
divisions were unnaturally extended to the very neck? It was obviously
necessary to get a new garment at once, and the best chance of a good
one lay in little Annie's kindness. But in order to obviate the
slightest chance of his girl patron's refusing, he must bring her some
offering. He went off into the bush at the back of the town, and,
coming to where three or four black fellows were camped, he sat down
and talked with them. In spite of the heat, a wretched old gin,
muffled up in her one garment, a ragged blanket, held her hands over
the few burning sticks which represent an Australian native's idea of
a fire. Presently King Billy rose, and, taking a tomahawk, went
farther into the bush. He looked about, and at last came to a tree,
which he climbed native fashion, first discarding his clothes. When
near the first big branches he came to a hole, and, putting in his
hand, he extracted a lively young possum by the tail.
Next morning he was sitting on the Colborns' fence as usual. At his
feet was a little box with two or three slats nailed roughly across
it. Inside was the possum. King Billy wondered what kind of a coat he
could get. He liked a frock-coat; there was something majestic about
it, something fine and ample. Common morning coats would not do; no
one would insult a king by offering him tweed; even little Annie knew
better than that, especially if he gave her a live possum he had
caught himself. And when Annie did come out, she was in the seventh
heaven of delight with the possum, and ready to bestow anything in the
world on King Billy.
"You give poor Billy one fellow coat, missy, and he go down along
street like a king."
Annie flew into the house and seized the first garment she laid her
little hands on. It was her father's dress-coat. She rolled it up,
and, running out, thrust it excitedly into the king's black paw. As he
went off, she carried the possum indoors, and was deliriously happy
King Billy hurried into the bush till he came to a water-hole, and,
stripping off his rags, he held up the coat. His jaw fell; there was a
remarkable exiguity about the coat which was inexplicable. He had
never observed such in his life. He put it on, and, bending over the
surface of the still pool, took a good look at the general effect. It
was not bad from some points of view, but Billy had his doubts as to
whether he would be received with the respect due to his title if he
went into Ballarat clothed thus. He tried to button it, but discovered
that, if it had ever been intended for buttoning, he could not get it
to meet across his chest. He picked up his discarded frock-coat, which
was held together by the collar; then he felt the stuff of which the
dress-coat was made, and the material pleased him. "Oh, why," asked
Billy, "had it not been made with front tails?" He saw at last that
this coat and his high hat alone were insufficient for civilisation.
For full dress in a corroboree it might do. Unconsciously, he was so
wrought upon by the purpose for which the coat had been built that he
determined to reserve it for parties in the seclusion of the bush,
where any merriment could be rightly checked by a crack from his
waddy. He planted it carefully in a hollow log, and, having inserted
himself with as much care into his discarded rags, he wondered off
into the town. He got very intoxicated that night, and determined to
have a party all by himself.
Now it may seem very annoying, and I confess I find it so myself; but,
having got so far, I don't see my way to tell the rest, even if Annie
Colborn told me the story herself. For after her father's death she
married a man who had a small sheep-station and a hotel not forty
miles from Carabobla, in New South Wales. I stayed there a couple of
days when I was going north to the Murrumbidgee. But though she told
me, I cannot tell it again, at least not in bold, bad print. Still, it
will occur to most that a man of King Billy's sweet and innocent
disposition might very likely create a sensation, when his natural
discretion was drowned in bad whisky, if he ended his solitary
corroboree in the moonlight by going up to Colborn's house in order to
deliver a speech of gratitude through the French windows.
So Colborn and the king had a corroboree all to themselves in the open
space before the house, while the gold commissioner's guests roared
with laughter to find out where the missing dress-coat was. Next day
King Billy resumed the split frock-coat.
THY HEART'S DESIRE
The tents were pitched in the little plain surrounded by hills. Right
and left there were stretches of tender, vivid green where the young
corn was springing; farther 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
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 toward them. She leaned 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 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 gray
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 stillness
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 toward the well, their terra-cotta water-jars
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 mathematical 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 notebook 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 the 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 slouching 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
"Well, no, my dear, not very," he replied, drawling out the 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 toward 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 nearernearer. 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
All at once she threw her work down on to the table. "For heaven's
sakeplease, John, talk!" she cried. Her eyes, for 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 thereand was vaguely disturbing. She laughed a
"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
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
"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
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 glanced
furtively at him, but his face was quite unmoved; evidently he had not
noticed it, and she smiled faintly again.
"O 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
"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
"Wellthat'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 half-way 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
"Why, Kathie, you seem quite anxious. I didn't know you'd be so
interested, my dear. Well,"another long pull at his pipe,"his
name's BrookBrookfield, I think." He paused again. "This pipe
doesn'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 clinched her hands under the
"Go on, John," she said, presently, in a tense, vibrating voice; "his
name is Brookfield. Well, where does he come from?"
"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 apparently. 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 of exasperated contempt which she
could not absolutely banish from her tone.
Her husband, looking up, met her clear bright gaze, and reddened like
"Whereabouts 'from home' does he come?" she asked, in a studiedly
"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.
Brookfieldyes, that must be his name."
She waited a moment; then, "When is he coming?" she inquired,
"Let me seeto-day's"
"Monday;" the word came swiftly between her set teeth.
"Ah, yesMonday; well," reflectively, "next Monday, my dear."
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. "O John,
you needn't consider; it's quite a simple question. To-day?
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
"My dear, it slipped my memory. If I'd thought you would be
"Interested!" She laughed shortly. "It is rather interesting to hear
that after six months of this"she made a quick comprehensive gesture
with her hand"one will have some one to speak tosome 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 madyet. 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
orsomething. Nodon't touch me!" she cried, shrinking back; for he
had risen slowly and was coming toward her.
She had lost command over her voice, and the shrill note of 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 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."
"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
"We are very glad to see you," she said, with a quick glance at the
new-comer's face as she spoke.
As they walked together toward the tent, after the first greetings,
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 toward 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 toward 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 entered the tent slowly, and, moving up to the table already laid
for dinner, began to rearrange the things upon it in a purposeless,
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 manany 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 toward 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
"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
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 lingeringly, 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 gray 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
She was pretty, he thought, or perhaps it was that, with the wide, dry
lonely plain as a setting, her fragile delicacy of appearance 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
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 one's self
"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 total
"Great heavens! what an Adam to select!" thought Broomhurst,
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 smokeeh!
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 farther aside, stepped out into the
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 wifeI 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 afterward
Broomhurst emerged from the darkness into the circle of light outside,
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 desperatefor 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?" Broomhurst
"Yes, now that you mention it, I think that must be why I am waiting,"
she replied, slowly.
"And it doesn't comeeven 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 allwhen 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
"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 mind the day so much; it's the evenings." She abruptly
checked the swift words, and flushed painfully. "I meanI've grown
stupidly nervous, I thinkeven 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 apologetically. There was
silence for quite a minute.
Broomhurst's quick eyes noted the silent momentary clinching 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
stupidand 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 toward 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 handvery well in hand," he repeated.
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, sometimes
passing close to his chair in search of something she had mislaid.
There was colour in her cheeks; her eyes, though preoccupied, 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 toward 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 lookedjest nowmuch 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 dearyou'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
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 did not reply for a moment; then he turned his head aside, sharply
"No, my dear, thank you; I'm comfortable enough here," he returned,
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. "II
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,
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 Idoes 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 dearsomehow."
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
wife and then swiftly putting in his name with a scarcely perceptible
pause. "Too lazy? But you, Mrs. Drayton?"
"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
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
Broomhurst arranged their seats comfortably beside it.
"Are we going to read or talk?" he asked, looking up at her from his
"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 permission; 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 neighbourhood, filtered through the hot
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 opened the book obediently, but turned the pages at random.
She watched him for a moment, and then bent a little forward toward
"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."
"I've had orders to move on."
She drew back, and her lips whitened, though she kept them steady.
"When do you go?"
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
Her face was white to the lips, but she looked at him unflinchingly;
and without a word he turned and left her.
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 ill 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
She raised her head sharply, with a thrill of fear, still kneeling,
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, 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
"I thought youyou 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
"Don't be so frightened," he implored; "I came to tell you first. I
thought it wouldn't frighten you so much asYourDrayton isvery
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
Broomhurst started back.
"Do you understand what I mean?" he whispered. "Kathleen, for God's
sakedon'the 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 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 cliffsdown by the bay, or thereabouts," her landlady
explained; and, obeying her directions, Broomhurst presently emerged
from the shady woodland path on to the hillside overhanging the sea.
He glanced eagerly round him, and then, with a sudden quickening 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
Her lips quivered. "Don't be angry with meI can't help itI'm not
glad or sorry for anything now," she answered; and her voice matched
his for grayness.
They sat down together on a long flat stone half embedded in a wiry
clump of whortleberries. Behind them the lonely hillsides rose,
brilliant with yellow bracken and the purple of heather. Before them
stretched the wide sea. It was a soft, gray day. Streaks of pale
sunlight trembled at moments far out on the water. 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 toward 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
whir 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 youif 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,
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, I did."
"Andyou mean that you don't now?"
Her voice was very tired. "Yes; I can't help it," she answered; "it
The gray sea slowly lapped the rocks. Overhead the sharp scream of a
gull cut through the stillness. It was broken again, a moment
afterward, 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
youwill you?" she urged, pitifully. "It may be better if I tell some
oneif I don't keep it all to myself, and think, and think."
She clasped her hands tight, with the old gesture he remembered 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 daypoems, stupid rhymesanything to keep my
thoughts quite underneathbut Ihated 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 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 ohrestless. I wonder if
men know what it feels like to be restless? Sometimes 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
sometimes and shriekand 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 myselfhow 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.
"IIit made me sick for him to come near meto 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 strongerhatred; no, that is
not the wordloathing forforJohn. I fought against 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
"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 didhe 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 knewI 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."
"Buthe didn't suspecthe 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 doto
stop you, I meanwhen youAfter 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 toward 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 morningwhen youwhen I stopped
you from saying you loved me, he was sitting at the table with his
head buried in his hands; he was cryingbitterly. 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 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 thatwhen I knew you loved me."
"Kathleen," cried her lover, again, "don't dwell on it all so terribly
"How can I forget?" she answered, despairingly. "And then,"she
lowered her voice,"oh, I can't tell youall the time, at the back
of my mind somewhere, there was a burning wish 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 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 handsjust 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 toward her.
"We have only ourselves to consider in this matter. Will you come to
me at once?"
She shook her head sadly.
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 responsible forDrayton'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 thatit was all so
inevitable. If he were alive and well before me this instant, my
feeling toward 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
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 brooding over thisthis
"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
one's self. 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 burned itself out. I will not offer gray ashes to any
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
sorryso sorry to hurt you. I" her voice faltered miserably; "II
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 answeredthey are. In due time
we get our heart's desirewhen 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."
"PerhapsI 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 gray sea and the transient gleams of
sunlight that swept like tender smiles across its face.