[Editor: This short story by L. E. Homfray was published in The Sydney Mail (Sydney, NSW), 20 October 1920.]
Heart of a child.
Athol Gordon sat in his study writing, but somehow his thoughts would wander from the manuscript before him to a letter he had received that day from his sister. Again he read the concluding words, and a great sadness filled his heart, drawing weary shadows round his eyes.
“I was shocked at the change in dear little Heather,” she wrote. “I noticed a look in her eyes, which comes only to a woman’s face when she is hungering for love, an unsatisfied yearning. Remember her disappointment; don’t forget, although she is your wife, she is very young, and has the heart of a child with all a woman’s capacity for sorrow.”
The man rose from his desk and paced the room in his anguish. Was his sister right? Yet what one thing had he left undone which might have brought further happiness to the girl whom he had taken from a life of poverty to share his wealth.
His thoughts went out to that day when she had entrusted her life’s happiness into his keeping; when she had knelt at God’s altar in all her bridal loveliness and given herself to him until death alone should part them.
He thought of the year of unclouded joy which had followed; then of that day when the angel of death had come into their midst and carried away with him a little new-born babe whose eyes had never opened to behold earth’s treasures.
In those hours of anguish and anxiety the lines had been graven on the man’s strong face, and the grey threads appeared among his dark hair. When his young wife had crept back from the land of shadows only one thought filled his heart — that of thankfulness. Nothing had been left undone which could have been done to bring back the old light of joy to her eyes.
Of their great disappointment neither spoke. The man’s nature was a painfully reserved one, and Heather, knowing now utterly unselfish her husband was, and remembering all he had done for her, showed her own unselfishness in keeping from him the constant heartache she endured.
Sometimes she wished he would throw off this reserve — talk to her of his work — be to her a friend as well as a husband.
Yet it was his very unselfishness which made him anxious to shield her from every worry. There on his desk stood her photograph in its silver frame, the face which was dearer to him than all the world — a little flower-like face, with trusting eyes and a smile of exceeding sweetness.
“The heart of a child.” How strangely the words haunted him. “Ah, God!” he muttered to himself, “how little a man really understands a woman’s heart.”
Had he been so engrossed in his work as to forget for one hour the shadow which had darkened their hearts — the first grief of their hitherto unclouded life? Yet he had thought — had hoped — that his adoring love for her would have compensated for all.
Ah! surely his sister must have been mistaken. Had there been so great a change would not he have been the first to see it?
Work was impossible that night. A strange restless feeling filled the man’s heart, the restlessness which comes over us when some crisis is at hand. He must go to Heather, fold her in his arms, and hear her assure him all over again that his love for her was all she needed.
Through the open door came sounds of softest singing, and as Athol entered the room the scene which met his gaze pierced his heart through and through.
His wife was sitting near the couch, upon which were laid all the white and dainty garments which had been prepared with such loving thought for the little child who had never worn them. In her arms was a life-size baby doll, which she had dressed in some of the fairest of the lace-trimmed garments. She started up when she heard her husband’s step, and as she turned to him the smile on her face was sadder than tears.
“Don’t scold me! I know I’m silly, but I’m so lonely, and, Athol, you don’t understand. You never even said you were sorry. You never once asked to see all the pretty things I made for baby.”
Anguish unspeakable filled the man’s heart, and froze the words of sympathy he would have spoken. A mist before his eyes almost blotted out the pathetic little scene. The sight of the girl’s arm folded so tenderly round the doll touched his manhood as no words or tears could have done.
It was only by a mighty effort that he managed to control his emotion, and the words he spoke may have been prompted by some instinct, some higher influence, which sometimes comes to our aid when, perhaps, the whole course of our future depends upon the next word we speak.
Between Athol and his wife had arisen a barrier, so slight as to be scarcely recognised by either; so small that one little word might have broken it down for ever; one little word left unsaid had increased the barrier until two troubled, longing hearts had drifted far apart upon life’s ocean.
The seconds passed in silent agony; then the man’s reserve gave way and love came forth triumphant.
“My poor little girl,” he whispered in broken tones, “you have been lonely in your sorrow, and I, too have been all alone with trouble.”
“Oh, Athol, what is it? Are you ill?” and the girl came very close and laid her head against him. “Tell me, Athol, I’m used to trouble. Oh! my dear, if I’d only known!”
The large doll lay unheeded now, the little white garments laid aside. Heather’s only thought was for her husband. Forgotten the pain at her heart, forgotten all her loneliness and suffering.
“My darling, I have had some heavy losses lately. In my great anxiety for you I have not spoken of this; but now you must know, for we shall have to leave this house; and, oh! my dear, I’m afraid there are many luxuries we must give up — for some time, at least.”
“Is that all, Athol? Why, I don’t dread poverty. We can bear every trial if only we have each other. However poor we may be, yet we may be rich in love. If you only knew how I have longed to help you in some way! You, who have done so much for me; but, oh! Athol, believe me when I tell you that all the wealth you have lavished on me, all the gifts you have bestowed upon me, would have been as nothing without your love. Nothing else ever satisfies a woman’s heart for long.”
Athol Gordon understood at last, and, thank God, the understanding had not come too late.
The Sydney Mail (Sydney, NSW), 20 October 1920, pp. 11, 31
The authorship of this short story is given at the top of page 11: “By L. E. Homfray”.
See: The Sydney Mail (Sydney, NSW), 20 October 1920, p. 11
graven = engraven, carved, sculptured
[Editor: Added a quotation mark before “Ah, God”.]