The King in Yellow – Day 86 of 87

After a while she took up her book again, but instead of reading began to adjust a rose in her corsage. The rose was big and red. It glowed like fire there over her heart, and like fire it warmed her heart, now fluttering under the silken petals. Rue Barrée sighed again. She was very happy. The sky was so blue, the air so soft and perfumed, the sunshine so caressing, and her heart sang within her, sang to the rose in her breast. This is what it sang: “Out of the throng of passers-by, out of the world of yesterday, out of the millions passing, one has turned aside to me.”

So her heart sang under his rose on her breast. Then two big mouse-coloured pigeons came whistling by and alighted on the terrace, where they bowed and strutted and bobbed and turned until Rue Barrée laughed in delight, and looking up beheld Clifford before her. His hat was in his hand and his face was wreathed in a series of appealing smiles which would have touched the heart of a Bengal tiger.

For an instant Rue Barrée frowned, then she looked curiously at Clifford, then when she saw the resemblance between his bows and the bobbing pigeons, in spite of herself, her lips parted in the most bewitching laugh. Was this Rue Barrée? So changed, so changed that she did not know herself; but oh! that song in her heart which drowned all else, which trembled on her lips, struggling for utterance, which rippled forth in a laugh at nothing,–at a strutting pigeon,–and Mr. Clifford.

“And you think, because I return the salute of the students in the Quarter, that you may be received in particular as a friend? I do not know you, Monsieur, but vanity is man’s other name;–be content, Monsieur Vanity, I shall be punctilious–oh, most punctilious in returning your salute.”

“But I beg–I implore you to let me render you that homage which has so long–”

“Oh dear; I don’t care for homage.”

“Let me only be permitted to speak to you now and then,–occasionally–very occasionally.”

“And if you, why not another?”

“Not at all,–I will be discretion itself.”

“Discretion–why?”

Her eyes were very clear, and Clifford winced for a moment, but only for a moment. Then the devil of recklessness seizing him, he sat down and offered himself, soul and body, goods and chattels. And all the time he knew he was a fool and that infatuation is not love, and that each word he uttered bound him in honour from which there was no escape. And all the time Elliott was scowling down on the fountain plaza and savagely checking both bulldogs from their desire to rush to Clifford’s rescue,–for even they felt there was something wrong, as Elliott stormed within himself and growled maledictions.

When Clifford finished, he finished in a glow of excitement, but Rue Barrée’s response was long in coming and his ardour cooled while the situation slowly assumed its just proportions. Then regret began to creep in, but he put that aside and broke out again in protestations. At the first word Rue Barrée checked him.

“I thank you,” she said, speaking very gravely. “No man has ever before offered me marriage.” She turned and looked out over the city. After a while she spoke again. “You offer me a great deal. I am alone, I have nothing, I am nothing.” She turned again and looked at Paris, brilliant, fair, in the sunshine of a perfect day. He followed her eyes.

“Oh,” she murmured, “it is hard,–hard to work always–always alone with never a friend you can have in honour, and the love that is offered means the streets, the boulevard–when passion is dead. I know it,–we know it,–we others who have nothing,–have no one, and who give ourselves, unquestioning–when we love,–yes, unquestioning–heart and soul, knowing the end.”

She touched the rose at her breast. For a moment she seemed to forget him, then quietly–”I thank you, I am very grateful.” She opened the book and, plucking a petal from the rose, dropped it between the leaves. Then looking up she said gently, “I cannot accept.”

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