Charles Garvice.

Her heart's desire online

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Author oj "Fiiniiet Holt's : Daughter," "Claire," "Elaine,'' " Her Ransom,'

"Leslie's Loyalty" " Sweet Cymbeline," " The Snowdrift"

" Woven on Fate's Loom,'' Etc., Etc.





ONE afternoon in early June about the happiest looking
girl in all England stood at the entrance of the new lions'
house at the Zoological Gardens.

She stood looking wistfully and longingly, and then
glanced with a little sigh of regret at a group of ladies
seated under the trees on. tli3 lawn a little way off. She
had been seated in the group, listening to the small talk,
for nearly half an hour, and that half hour had just
meant so much wasted time to her : for she loved, adored,
animals of all kinds, wild or tame, and she hated gossip.
So she had got up quietly and strolled off knowing full
well that to stroll away from your chaperon and guardian
is an act of disobedience and wickedness of almost the last
degree. With a sigh, she was going back to the group,
when, unfortunately for her, the lion the big one with
the mane gave a groan and then a roar. This was
irresistible ; and the girl, abandoning the proprieties,
passed through the doorway, and, with ecstatic enjoyment,
sauntered down the house watching the animals. There
were not many people in the place, and she almost had it
to herself: and no words can tell how she enjoyed it.
Sometimes she leaned Avith both elbows on the iron bar
which rails off the cages from the promenade ; and now
and again she climbed up the steps facing the dens and
sat on one of the seats, her elbows on her knees, her chin
resting in her gloved hands.

She was very happy: first, because she was young.
Oh ! it is good to be only twenty ! Secondly, because she
was perfectly healthy : and thirdly, because she had not
eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. That is to



.say, she was as innocent of all evil as the doves which

; in the cages in the South Walk. Alas! how few

girls of twenty are there who can lay their little white

hands on their hearts and claim a like ignorance! l>ut

this ehild of Nature, as her aunt, Lady Pauline Lascelles,

called her, had been exceptionally brought up as will

:i presently.

was so absorbed in the lions and tigers, the black
panther with the temper, and the leopard who declined
to change his spots, that when she had got to the end of
irnivora house, instead of returning to the group,
i tight by the splash of the seals, who live just out-
wide, passed on, and instantly grew as absorbed in them.
Leaning on the bar, she watched the keeper put the in-
telligent, soft-eyed little fellows through their stereotyped
tricks, and frankly, and with an "Oh! thank you, thank
you : how clever, how very clever they are ! " she gave
the keeper a shilling from the silver-netted purse which
she extracted from the mysterious pocket which ladies
favor and no man has ever yet been known to find.

From the seals she sauntered on to the monkey-house.
But the evil-smelling place was too much for her, and,
suddenly awakened from her kind of dream, she remem-
bered her aunt, and retraced her steps by way of the
lions' house.

she went through it again her pace grew slower,
and she lingered just a moment or two before the big
lion's Victor's cage. While she was looking at him
admiringly, the keeper's private door between the
opened, and the keeper came out. He was followed by a
gentleman, who paused a moment to look around him,
then, passing something into the keeper's hands, nodded,
and walked on.

The keeper pocketed his tip, touched hi.s hat with
marked respect, "and looked after the gentleman curiously.

The young girl looked after him, too, and a littl
viously ; for fancy being privileged to go " behind the
scenes " at the Zoo !

She left the carnivora house, and \\ulkedquiek"
ward the lawn; then she stopped and looked round,
ratln.-r aghast, for the group had gone from under the
trees, and Lady Pauline was not to be seen.


She was not alarmed, because she was neither nervous
nor timid ; and she felt sure she could find her aunt, who
was both tall and stately, and not easily hidden. So, al-
most as happy as before, she wandered round and about,
just pausing on tiptoe, so to speak, before some particu-
larly enticing cage, and keeping her eyes on the alert.
But after half an hour spent in this way and no aunt in
sight, she began to get well, a little grave and serious.

The Zoo is not exactly a wilderness though there are
plenty of wild animals in it and there are numerous
keepers of whom one can inquire one's way ; and the
girl was not afraid of being lost. But she knew Lady
Pauline would be anxious, and as angry as she could ever
find it possible to be ; and she was getting vexed with

Xow as she had a particularly eloquent face eyes,
lips and brow which reflected and expressed every pass-
ing emotion it was not to be wondered at that, as she
stood at the corner of one of the walks, looking from side
to side anxiously, she should attract attention.

A nursemaid, dragging two children behind her, re-
marked to the eldest;

" Look at that pretty lidy ; she's been an' lost her wiy."

A young man glanced at her, and waited, longing to
speak to her and offer assistance ; but he was young and
shy, and. he, too, passed on. Then came the gentleman
who had come from behind the dens. Pie was walking
slowly, with eyes fixed straight before him, and he did
not see the girlish figure and the anxious face until he
was close upon her and he, too, looked as if he would have
liked to pass by.

But something in the gray-blue eyes, in the delicate
lines of the girl's white brow, stopped him against his

lie pulled up, raised his hat, and in a graA-e voice that
was not by any means unmusical, said :

" I beg your pardon. Are you looking for any one ?
Can I help you ? "

The girl did not blush, but turned her eyes upon him
with an almost boyish frankness.

" Oh, thank you ! " she said, rather hesitatingly for
how could he help her ? "I have wandered from my


people, and lost them. I have been searching for them
everywhere, but cannot see them."

The girl as her eyes rested on him placidly, incuriously,
saw a well-dressed man, with a handsome face, with dark
eyes and hair. There was a suspicion of gray about the
temples, and a look of gravity and sadness in the <
which, perhaps, struck her afterward. But for the mo-
ment she only noticed that he was good-looking and had
a distinguished air : and that he seemed rather wearied
and a little bored, but too well-bred not to try and <
ceal it.

No voice whispered in her ear " Behold this man : he
is your Fate the man who will change the current of
your life ; the man whose slightest word, lightest smile,
Avill have the power to move your heart to its very

he smiled at him with her eloquent mouth, with
her frank, blue eyes ; and the man looked gravely into
the face, scarcely noticing its fascination.

Where did you leave them ? " he asked.

'Under the trees on the lawn, by the li<" " she

replied. " I strolled in there, and wandered farther than
T intended ; when I came back they had gone."

Xo doubt they only left for a time; they may have
gone back," he said.

"Ah. do you think so?" she said, with a touch of re-
lief in her voice, a smile in her eyes. " But I can't find
it again ! I've gone round and round until I feel as if I
were in a maze "

"I think I know the place you mean : and, if you will
allow me, I will take you back to it."

As they walked on side by side he asked:

" Is this your first visit to the Zoo * "

"Yes, my very first. We have always lived in the
country. This is my lirst visit to London, and I be.u.
aunt to bring me here I had heard and read so much of
it. I am so fond of animals. I have a horse of my own,
two dogs, three cats, sonic white mice, and a guinea pig.
I bought a parrot of a sailor (we. live near a port), but
aunt said it talked bad language, so I exchanged it for
some Belgian hares."

' ; You must have a perfect menagerie," he remarked.


She laughed. How soon was the man to thrill from
head to foot at that laugh ! And yet, now, it affected
him not the least bit in the world. It struck him as
musical, pleasant that was all.

"It was awfully hard to part with them. I brought
the dogs and the guinea pig, and the white mice ; but I
had to leave the rest behind. Oh, there is the place ; but
my aunt is not there ! " she broke off.

The man looked around, as a man does when he has
undertaken to do something which he knows will be a

" Perhaps she is searching for you, as you have been
searching for her," he said. " We had better go round
the gardens. What' is your aunt like ? But you will see
her, of course, if we run against her ? "

" She is tall and stately," said the girl, " and she is
dressed in gray, like I am ; but in silk. Oh, of course,
I should see her ever so far off ! "

" Then let us go round," lie said ; " there is no cause
for anxiety. 1 '

" I am not anxious," said the girl, frankly. " Of
course, aunt will be a little angry well, not angry ; she
never is ; she couldn't be ; but I know that the carriage
was ordered to take us up at one of the gates at six o'clock,
and I think I could find it. Are we going through the
lions' house ? I hope we can. I've been through twice ;
but I should never get tired of it should you? "

" Eh V " he said, absently. Her voice was musical, but
he was not paying much attention to her words. " Oh, I
don't know. I go to it very often."

"I saw you just now," she said, "I saw you come out
from the back of the dens with the keeper."

" Did you V " he said, listlessly. " Yes, I had been round
to see a young lion I brought over."

She stopped dead short, and looked at him, her limpid
eyes wide as saucers, and, it must be confessed, her mouth
almost as open.

" A lion you brought over ! You, yourself ! " she ex-

He smiled a little wearily and listlessly.

" There is nothing wonderful in that," he said. " I've
just come from Africa ; there are lions there still, strange


to say. T caught this one after shooting its mother. It's
a fine young lion, and doing very well."

" Oh, how I should like to see it ! " she exclaimed, not
shyly or hesitatingly, but frankly, like a girl, a child, if
you like, whose wishes have always been granted.

"Should you? Nothing easier," he said, in the same
tone. " The keeper shall show it to you."

He took her into the house, beckoned to the keeper,
who touched his hat as respectfully as before, and, to the
girl's delight, led them through the passage between the
cages to the back of the dens.

" Just show us the youngster, keeper," he said.

" Yes, my lord," said the keeper obsequiously.

They had passed into a kind of covered yard, in which
were standing several huge traveling cages. Some of
these were covered with tarpaulin, and from one of these
the keeper drew aside the covering and revealed a fine
young lion. As the light streamed in upon him he
blinked and snarled, showing his white, even teeth,
angrily. -

" Oh, what a beauty ! " exclaimed the girl. " And you
really caught it ! Oh, how I envy you ! What a lovely
head it has ! "

As she spoke, she went down on one knee, and, all un-
conscious, got a little too close to the cage.

Every one knows how quickly a cat's claw shoots out
after a bird or a mouse. Like a flash of lightning the
young lord of the forest darted out his paw at the girl.
But the gentleman had caught the vicious look in the
animal's eyes, and before the sharp claw could reach her,
he had caught her by the arm and drawn her back. He
was only just in time to save her, and not in time to save
himself: for the sound of rent cloth mixed with the snarl
and roar of disappointment which the lion sent forth.

The keeper struck at the cage, shouted rebukingly and
let the tarpaulin down.

"Hope he didn't catch you, my lord?" he said, with
anxious respect.

The gentleman shook his head and slipped his arm with
the torn sleeve behind him.

" Not at all," he said, quietly. " Show us that young
panther, keeper."


The girl looked from one to the other. She was a
little pale.

" Are you sure it did not touch your arm ? " she said,
her sweet eyes fixed upon his face Avith a troubled ex-
pression ; " I I thought I heard the cloth tear. Are you
sure, please ? "

" Quite sure," he said, a little wearily. " There is the
most dangerous animal in the gardens." He nodded to-
ward the panther, who regarded them with a sullen
ferocity, and, as he nodded, he took her arm and held her
away from the cage.

The keeper showed them several other animals in the
private yard, and now and again the gentleman dropped
a word of criticism and advice, which, the girl noticed,
the keeper received with marked deference. It seemed
to her that her guardian for the time being must be a man
of some importance.

But presently he appeared to remember that they were
not very likely to find her people at the back of the lion's
den, and, with a nod to the keeper, he led her out again.
They walked round and round the most frequented parts
of the Gardens for some time, stopping to look at the
various cages, and the girl chatted and asked questions
with a perfect freedom from shyness. Every now and
then she would look up at his face laughingly, and call
his attention to some odd bird or quadruped ; and the man
would come down out of the clouds and smile gravely.

He answered all her questions with quiet exactitude,
and once or twice volunteered some information.

" You must know a great deal about animals," she re-
marked. " I wish I did ! " and she sighed.

" I -have traveled a little," he responded.

" I wish I had ! " she said, with a half smile and a half
sigh. " But girls don't travel, do they ? They are so
different from men. Now, it wouldn't matter if you were
lost instead of me."

" Xot much," he said.

" Xo ; you would not be scolded and told -oh, all sorts
of things. I don't see aunt anywhere and oh, I am so
thirsty ! "

" Are you ? Why didn't you say so before ? " he


" T didn't think of it before I saw the refreshment place,"
si ic replied, frankly.

He led her up the path and put a chair for her at one
of the tables under the trees, full in sight of the elephants
promenading with their cages of assorted human beings,
and ordered tra for t\vo.

waiter brought it, and set it down with the usual
lie in front of the girl, and she poured it out with
simple gravity, as if well, as if they were brother and
-. -r or man and wife.

He leaned back in his chair and regarded her with a
slight increase of interest. She was certainly very beau-
tiful. Her eyes were rather a strange blue the blue that
darkens quickly under any swift or deep emotion. Then
he looked at her dress, and, seeing its simplicity, pondered
over her social position. It was evident that the girl
a lady. Her very innocence and frankness proved that,
even if her voice and manner had not done so.

"Do you take sugar?" she asked, lifting her eyes to
his so suddenly that he found it i . to drop his own

critical ones. " Xo ? How strange that seems! I do

as much as I can get."

" You can pour the contents of the sugar basin into your
cup, if you like," he said.

"I wonder what the waiter would say! No, I am" go-
ing to be content with three lumps. Oh, how nice the
is ! I was so very, very thirsty weren't you

" Yes," he said, simply. He beckoned a waiter, and t< ld
him to bring some cake. The girl brightened up at it, and,
after helping herself, cut a slice for him.

-Xot like cake!" she said. "That's strange, too I
thought every one liked cake." 1

' .Most young people do," he said, with the half- \\vary

She looked ;,t him with something like actual attention,
her cake poised in her hand.

" Are you old ? " she said. The simplicity of the ques-
tion, to say nothing of its frankness, brought* a full-blown
smile to his face, and he certainly did not look old at that

all depends upon what you call old," he said. "I
am afraid I should seem to you very aged."


" Aunt, says that a man is as old as he feels, and a
woman as old as she looks."

" Reckoning on that basis, I am ninety-three," he said.

She smiled at him with innocent amusement.

And I ? "

He looked at her with a listless kind of scrutiny.

" Seventeen - -eighteen ? "

She put the cake down and stared at him with girlish

" How absurd ! " I am nearly twenty." .

He was surprised, and he looked it faintly.

Really ? "

" Yes, really. You are like aunt. She is always telling
me that I look like a girl, and imploring me to remember
that I am a woman as if it made any difference ! "

He got out a cigarette case, got it out mechanically
then glanced at her, and was putting it away again when
she said :

" Are you going to smoke ? Do, if you wish. I do not

He lit his cigarette and leaned his elbow on the table.

" You live with your aunt ? " he said not because he
wished to know, but just to make conversation. She
nodded over her teacup, and munched her cake for a
moment before replying.

" Yes ; I have lived with her for the past ten years
she and I alone together."

" Then your parents are dead ? "

" My mother is," she said, quietly, and with a sudden
sweet gravity in the lovely face. " I went to auntie when
my mother died. My father is alive, and I have a brother
he is younger than I am. Aunt adopted me, you know.
I had no mother nor sister, and father was traveling about,
and I suppose he was glad to get rid of me. Girls are
always a nuisance, are they not '? "

"I don't know not always, I should think. Only
sometimes. By the way, you did not tell me your aunt's

" Lascelles Lady Lascelles," said the girl.

He raised his eyebrows slightly, as if he recognized
the name.

" And you did not tell me yours," he remarked.


" You didn't ask me," she said, simply. " It is Decima
Deane. What is yours '; "

She leaned forward, her chin resting on her now un-
gloved hand and regarded him with girlish, friendly

The waiter came up at the moment, and the gentleman
put his left hand in his pocket for his purse. He had
kept his arm behind his chair during tea, and even now
he moved it out of sight again quickly and shuffled his
purse to the right hand ; but Decimals, eyes were sharp,
as well as beautiful, and she saw the rent in the sleeve.

She forgot all about his name, and exclaimed:

M Why, the lion did tear your sleeve ! Oh, did it scratch

Xo. no,'' he said, rather shortly. "How much,

" Three shillings, sir.''

' That is eighteen pence each," said Decima, taking out
her silver chain purse, and she extracted a shilling and
sixpence and laid them down on the table.

The man smiled grimly. It was evident he was the
first man with whom she had ever taken tea in public.

"Put your money back," he said, much amused.

" Oh, why ? " she asked, with wide eyes. " Why should
YOU pay for me ? "

" I don't know,'' he said ; "excepting that it is usual,
and that it would be exceedingly bad form for you to pay
for yourself."

" Now I can't understand that! " she said, with girlish
insistence, and just as if she were arguing with a school-
fellow. " Why should a gentleman always pay for

" Because it is one of the few privileges we wretched
men po.ssi-s."

"That's absurd!" she laughed. "Besides, we are
strangers. And I don't know what aunt would say !
She says that girls'should always be independent : and
oh, here she is ! Aunt, how did you Jose me ? " And
she sprang up and caught the arm of the tall lady in
gray, who approached with stately steps and a grave

" My dear Decima, where, where, have you been ?


And " as the gentleman rose and removed his hat " and
who is this ? " she added, in an anxious undertone. De-
cima turned a smiling and grateful face toward her late
and temporary guardian.

" Oh, this gentleman has been helping me to find you,
and we could not, though we went everywhere."

Lady Lascelles glanced at the tea-table, and then at the
tall and erect gentleman in front of it, with a gray and
stern eye.

" And I was so thirsty," Decima went on, answering
the look, " and he got some tea ; and well, then you
came up ! I am so glad ! But I should not have been lost,
should I ? I should have gone to the gate where the car-
riage was to wait. And, oh, aunt, will you please thank
this gentleman for taking so much trouble

Lady Lascelles touched the girl's arm, as an exhorta-
tion to silence, and addressed the gentleman.

" I am greatly obliged to you for your care of my niece,
sir. I am afraid she has given you some trouble. To
whom am I indebted ? "

The gentleman frowned slightly, as if the question
were an unwelcome one. From his cigarette case lying on
the table he took a card and gave it to her.

" That is my name," he said, quietly.

Lady Lascelles started slightly, her face flushing.

He bowed as if he understood, his lips set tight.

The stately lady became taller and more stately. With
a cold " good-day " she drew Decima's hand over her arm
as if the girl suddenly needed protection and was
walking her off. But Decima looked back, with a troub-
led expression in her eyes and about the expressive
mouth, and, swiftly releasing her arm, she ran back to
where the gentleman was still standing, a faint, grim
smile -of amusement 1 in his eyes.

" Oh, I haven't thanked you as I ought to ! " she said.
" You were so kind and and patient ! And you showed
me the private lions, you know and I am so grateful !
and oh, please do not be offended with aunt, but but
shake hands."

She held out her hand and he took it. He did not
press it, but let it fall, and with another lifting of his
hat walked away.


Lady Lascelles waited, with her lips tightly set, a frown
upon her broad brow.

" Decima, coine, please ! " she said.

Decima turned to her aunt's side, but looked rather
wistfully after the tall, retreating form of the man who
had been so coldly treated for his kindness.

' Why why were you so angry with him, aont " she
asked, just a little piteously. " He was very, very kind,
and and what has he done to make you so cross ? "

' ; 3Iy dear Decima, you must not ask questions which I
cannot answer. It was very wrong of you to permit a
gentleman a stranger to walk about the gardens with
you. And how could you possibly sit there and take tea
with him ? "

" I was thirsty ! " said Decima, simply.

Lady Lascelles almost groaned.

"Decima, you are nothing better than a child, a mere
child ! You must never do such a tiling again ! "

" Why not ? What harm have I done ? " insisted the

" It is it is not usual ; it is bad etiquette, manners,
form, to walk about with a strange man to take tea with
him is worse. Any strange gentleman is bad enough.
But that man of all men in the wide world ! "

" Why was it worse to walk about and sit down to tea
with him than any one else, aunt ? " Decima asked.

Lady Lascelles bit her lip.

" Because my dear girl, you would not understand

" But, aunt, why ? "

" Because he is a bad, wicked man : one of the most
wicked men in the world."


" ONE of the most wicked men in the world " mean-
while walked slowly across the Gardens to the Clarence
Gate, and, calling a cab, told the man to drive him to
Cavendish Square. Stopping the cab at the house of Sir
James Starke, he inquired if the great physician were in,
and was shown into the consulting room.


Sir James Starke had just come in from his rounds, and
still had his hat on; he tilted it up with an expression of
astonishment at sight of his visitor.

" Hallo, Gaunt ! " he said. "I didn't know you were in
England! How are you? Sit down. Anything the
matter?" As he shook hands he' surveyed the wear}',
handsome face with the physician's penetrating gaze.

Lord Gaunt took off his coat and rolled up the sleeve
of his left arm.

" Just cauterize that, will you, Starke ? " he said,

Sir James turned the arm to the light an arm well
made and muscular, hard as iron and smooth as marble.

u Why what is it?" he said. "A dog bite?" No!

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Online LibraryCharles GarviceHer heart's desire → online text (page 1 of 21)