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Thy Heart’s Desire
by [?]

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 touch.

They had begun to change, to soften, to blush rose red in the evening light, when a woman came to the entrance of the largest of the tents and looked 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 answerable.