Love's Curfew

`FAYFIELD Junction! Change for Elveston!'

What subtle memory could there be, linked to these commonplace words, that caused such a flood of happy thoughts to fill my brain? I dismounted from the carriage in a state of joyful excitement for which I could not at first account. True, I had taken this very journey, and at the same hour of the day, six months ago; but many things had happened since then, and an old man's memory has but a slender hold on recent events: I sought `the missing link' in vain. Suddenly I caught sight of a bench--the only one provided on the cheerless platform--with a lady seated on it, and the whole forgotten scene flashed upon me as vividly as if it were happening over again.

`Yes,' I thought. `This bare platform is, for me, rich with the memory of a dear friend! She was sitting on that very bench, and invited me to share it, with some quotation from Shakespeare--I forget what. I'll try the Earl's plan for the Dramatization of Life, and fancy that figure to be Lady Muriel; and I wo'n't undeceive myself too soon!'

So I strolled along the platform, resolutely `making-believe' (as children say) that the casual passenger, seated on that bench, was the Lady Muriel I remembered so well. She was facing away from me, which aided the elaborate cheatery I was practising on myself: but, though I was careful, in passing the spot, to look the other way, in order to prolong the pleasant illusion, it was inevitable that, when I turned to walk back again, I should see who it was. It was Lady Muriel herself!

The whole scene now returned vividly to my memory; and, to make this repetition of it stranger still, there was the same old man, whom I remembered seeing so roughly ordered off, by the Station-Master, to make room for his titled passenger. The same, but `with a difference': no longer tottering feebly along the platform, but actually seated at Lady Muriel's side, and in conversation with her! `Yes, put it in your purse,' she was saying, `and remember you're to spend it all for Minnie. And mind you bring her something nice, that'll do her real good! And give her my love!' So intent was she on saying these words, that, although the sound of my foot-step had made her lift her head and look at me, she did not at first recognize me.

I raised my hat as I approached, and then there flashed across her face a genuine look of joy, which so exactly recalled the sweet face of Sylvie, when last we met in Kensington Gardens, that I felt quite bewildered.

Rather than disturb the poor old man at her side, she rose from her seat, and joined me in my walk up and down the platform, and for a minute or two our conversation was as utterly trivial and commonplace as if we were merely two casual guests in a London drawing-room. Each of us seemed to shrink, just at first, from touching on the deeper interests which linked our lives together.

The Elveston train had drawn up at the platform, while we talked; and, in obedience to the Station-Master's obsequious hint of `This way, my Lady! Time's up!', we were making the best of our way towards the end which contained the sole first-class carriage, and were just passing the now-empty bench, when Lady Muriel noticed, lying on it, the purse in which her gift had just been so carefully bestowed, the owner of which, all unconscious of his loss, was being helped into a carriage at the other end of the train. She pounced on it instantly. `Poor old man!' she cried. `He mustn't go off, and think he's lost it!'

`Let me run with it! I can go quicker than you!' I said. But she was already half-way down the platform, flying (`running' is much too mundane a word for such fairy-like motion) at a pace that left all possible efforts of mine hopelessly in the rear.

She was back again before I had well completed my audacious boast of speed in running, and was saying, quite demurely, as we entered our carriage, `and you really think you could have done it quicker?'

`No, indeed!' I replied. `I plead "Guilty" of gross exaggeration, and throw myself on the mercy of the Court!'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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