“Just where does that let me out?” he demanded. “How does that excuse you for—”
“It isn’t an excuse,” she said, gently, and gave him one final look, wholly desolate. “I haven’t said I should never marry.”
“What?” Jim gasped.
She inclined her head in a broken sort of acquiescence, very humble, unfathomably sorrowful.
“I promise nothing,” she said, faintly.
“You needn’t!” shouted Jim, radiant and exultant. “You needn’t! By George! I know you’re square; that’s enough for me! You wait and promise whenever you’re ready!”
“Don’t forget what I asked,” she begged him.
“Talk about the weather? I will! God bless the old weather!” cried the happy Jim.
Through the open country Bibbs was borne flying between brown fields and sun-flecked groves of gray trees, to breathe the rushing, clean air beneath a glorious sky—that sky so despised in the city, and so maltreated there, that from early October to mid-May it was impossible for men to remember that blue is the rightful color overhead.
Upon each of Bibbs’s cheeks there was a hint of something almost resembling a pinkishness; not actual color, but undeniably its phantom. How largely this apparition may have been the work of the wind upon his face it is difficult to calculate, for beyond a doubt it was partly the result of a lady’s bowing to him upon no more formal introduction than the circumstance of his having caught her looking into his window a month before. She had bowed definitely; she had bowed charmingly. And it seemed to Bibbs that she must have meant to convey her forgiveness.
There had been something in her recognition of him unfamiliar to his experience, and he rode the warmer for it. Nor did he lack the impression that he would long remember her as he had just seen her: her veil tumultuously blowing back, her face glowing in the wind —and that look of gay friendliness tossed to him like a fresh rose in carnival.
By and by, upon a rising ground, the driver halted the car, then backed and tacked, and sent it forward again with its nose to the south and the smoke. Far before him Bibbs saw the great smudge upon the horizon, that nest of cloud in which the city strove and panted like an engine shrouded in its own steam. But to Bibbs, who had now to go to the very heart of it, for a commanded interview with his father, the distant cloud was like an implacable genius issuing thunderously in smoke from his enchanted bottle, and irresistibly drawing Bibbs nearer and nearer.
They passed from the farm lands, and came, in the amber light of November late afternoon, to the farthermost outskirts of the city; and here the sky shimmered upon the verge of change from blue to gray; the smoke did not visibly permeate the air, but it was there, nevertheless—impalpable, thin, no more than the dust of smoke. And then, as the car drove on, the chimneys and stacks of factories came swimming up into view like miles of steamers advancing abreast, every funnel with its vast plume, savage and black, sweeping to the horizon, dripping wealth and dirt and suffocation over league on league already rich and vile with grime.