The King in Yellow – Day 78 of 87

The cab swung around the rue de Medici, turned into the rue de Vaugirard, followed it to where it crosses the rue de Rennes, and taking that noisy thoroughfare, drew up before the Gare Montparnasse. They were just in time for a train and scampered up the stairway and out to the cars as the last note from the starting-gong rang through the arched station. The guard slammed the door of their compartment, a whistle sounded, answered by a screech from the locomotive, and the long train glided from the station, faster, faster, and sped out into the morning sunshine. The summer wind blew in their faces from the open window, and sent the soft hair dancing on the girl’s forehead.

“We have the compartment to ourselves,” said Hastings.

She leaned against the cushioned window-seat, her eyes bright and wide open, her lips parted. The wind lifted her hat, and fluttered the ribbons under her chin. With a quick movement she untied them, and, drawing a long hat-pin from her hat, laid it down on the seat beside her. The train was flying.

The colour surged in her cheeks, and, with each quick-drawn breath, her breath rose and fell under the cluster of lilies at her throat. Trees, houses, ponds, danced past, cut by a mist of telegraph poles.

“Faster! faster!” she cried.

His eyes never left her, but hers, wide open, and blue as the summer sky, seemed fixed on something far ahead,–something which came no nearer, but fled before them as they fled.

Was it the horizon, cut now by the grim fortress on the hill, now by the cross of a country chapel? Was it the summer moon, ghost-like, slipping through the vaguer blue above?

“Faster! faster!” she cried.

Her parted lips burned scarlet.

The car shook and shivered, and the fields streamed by like an emerald torrent. He caught the excitement, and his faced glowed.

“Oh,” she cried, and with an unconscious movement caught his hand, drawing him to the window beside her. “Look! lean out with me!”

He only saw her lips move; her voice was drowned in the roar of a trestle, but his hand closed in hers and he clung to the sill. The wind whistled in their ears. “Not so far out, Valentine, take care!” he gasped.

Below, through the ties of the trestle, a broad river flashed into view and out again, as the train thundered along a tunnel, and away once more through the freshest of green fields. The wind roared about them. The girl was leaning far out from the window, and he caught her by the waist, crying, “Not too far!” but she only murmured, “Faster! faster! away out of the city, out of the land, faster, faster! away out of the world!”

“What are you saying all to yourself?” he said, but his voice was broken, and the wind whirled it back into his throat.

She heard him, and, turning from the window looked down at his arm about her. Then she raised her eyes to his. The car shook and the windows rattled. They were dashing through a forest now, and the sun swept the dewy branches with running flashes of fire. He looked into her troubled eyes; he drew her to him and kissed the half-parted lips, and she cried out, a bitter, hopeless cry, “Not that–not that!”

But he held her close and strong, whispering words of honest love and passion, and when she sobbed–”Not that–not that–I have promised! You must–you must know–I am–not–worthy–” In the purity of his own heart her words were, to him, meaningless then, meaningless for ever after. Presently her voice ceased, and her head rested on his breast. He leaned against the window, his ears swept by the furious wind, his heart in a joyous tumult. The forest was passed, and the sun slipped from behind the trees, flooding the earth again with brightness. She raised her eyes and looked out into the world from the window. Then she began to speak, but her voice was faint, and he bent his head close to hers and listened. “I cannot turn from you; I am too weak. You were long ago my master–master of my heart and soul. I have broken my word to one who trusted me, but I have told you all;–what matters the rest?” He smiled at her innocence and she worshipped his. She spoke again: “Take me or cast me away;–what matters it? Now with a word you can kill me, and it might be easier to die than to look upon happiness as great as mine.”

He took her in his arms, “Hush, what are you saying? Look,–look out at the sunlight, the meadows and the streams. We shall be very happy in so bright a world.”

She turned to the sunlight. From the window, the world below seemed very fair to her.

Trembling with happiness, she sighed: “Is this the world? Then I have never known it”

“Nor have I, God forgive me,” he murmured.

Perhaps it was our gentle Lady of the Fields who forgave them both.

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