An Affair of the Heart  (1896) 
by Barry Pain

Extracted from To-day Magazine, 1895-96, p. 196.


By Barry Pain.

My eyes are very blue, my complexion is very fresh, my fair moustache and hair are adorable, my clothes are entirely new, and all this season's goods. But I am not happy.

I am a tailor's dummy, and I am not happy, though I am undoubtedly handsome. Is it pleasant for one who, like myself, is of a reserved and retiring nature, to stand in a shop window and be stared at by a crowd of passers-by, many of them persons of defective education, low parentage, and abominable manners? They do not only stare at me, they make remarks, personal and objectionable remarks, intended to be funny. I need hardly say that I take no notice whatever; there is nothing in my face, not even the movement of an eye-lash, to show that I have overheard them. But it is unpleasant. It is unpleasant, too, to wear a large label round one's neck, inscribed, "Our 45s. suit defies the world." It is unpleasant to have absolutely no society except that of the other dummy, a boy in a sailor-suit, marked "Very gentlemanly," with occasional visits from the shop-assistant, who acts as my valet.

But if this were all, I could bear it. I am strongly made, and I am patient. However, this is not all. I love, and entirely without hope.

The shop opposite, on the other side of the street, is a ladies' hairdresser's. In that window lives Evangeline. I do not know if that is her name, but I love her and like to think of her as Evangeline. She is a barber's dummy. Her complexion is even more exquisite than mine; her smile is ravishing; her teeth are pearly; her beautiful eyes are turned away from the vulgar crowd that stares in at her; her hair is miraculous. Almost every day her hair is done in a different manner, and it always suits her. She wears lace round her neck, and she wears nothing else. But that is because she has nothing else to wear anything on. She has only that head and neck—nothing more. The dummy-boy in the sailor-suit says that she ought to be labelled, "To be continued in our next." And that is the boy whom my proprietors think it right to mark, "Very gentlemanly!" Comment is superfluous. I threatened to fall on him and crush him, and he retorted that I needn't get waxy. How can I help being waxy? I am made that way.

As I have said, my love is hopeless. I cannot leave my shop-window, and she cannot leave hers; this prevents our meeting. She is so near, and yet so far. For years she has been on one side of the street, and I on the other; inevitable cabs and inexorable omnibuses roll between us. Often I cannot even see her face. I do not know if she has read in my eyes the passion with which I adore her. But I think it improbable.

Suppose that these barriers could be removed, suppose I could hold that lovely head pressed close against my white india-rubber shirt-collar, and fling one arm around the place where her waist would be if she had any waist—even then I know that I could never win her love. Why? Because she has no heart. How do I know she has no heart? Because she has absolutely nowhere to put it. One does not wear one's heart on one's coat-sleeve; it is equally true that one does not wear it in one's head or neck. The boy in the sailor-suit has suggested that perhaps her heart is kept in the back-shop, like fish in the hot weather. But that is no consolation—if her heart has passed out of her own keeping, it is in vain for me to sue for it. And further, I do not believe the suggestion. She is heartless, cold, unyielding. The one thing which makes me think she could ever melt is the care they take not to stand her in the sun.

To go on loving, without hope, and with the object of one's adoration daily before one's eyes—it is enough to drive one to suicide. I have thought of that. I have thought that one night I would fall over and break my beautiful waxen nose. Of what use is it to me to have a beautiful nose, if it can never win her love? But even then there would be no release—they would send me away and have me repaired. I should come back to see once more that mocking smile, that beautifully waved hair.

Sometimes I think my own horse-hair heart will break.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1928, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 94 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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