They found the key lying within the locked gate, and the dim light burning and the pistol loaded upon the table. The great house stood empty with all its grandeur intact. The servants had been paid their wages a few days before the crash and had gone away. Nothing had been moved, nothing taken. The creditors, who found to their amazement that all was left in their hands to dispose of as they chose, agreed that this was not an orthodox case of absconding. Haworth was a more eccentric fellow than they had thought.
One man alone understood. This was Murdoch, who, amid all the buzz of excited amazement, said nothing even to those in his own house. When he heard the story of the pistol and the key, his first thought was of the silence of the great place at night—the deadness of it and the sense of desolation it brought. It was a terrible thing to remember this and then picture a ruined man standing alone in the midst of it, a pistol in his hand and only the low light burning. "We did not understand each other very well," he said, drearily, "but we were friends in our way." And the man's farewell as he stood at the carriage door in the shadow, came back to him again and again like an echo repeating itself: "If there's aught in what's gone by that's for me—remember it!"
Even before his return home, Murdoch had made up his mind as to what his course for the next few years was to be. His future was assured and he might follow his idlest fancy. But his fancies were not idle. They reached forward to freedom and new labors when the time came. He wanted to be alone for a while, at least, and he was to return to America. His plan was to travel with a purpose in view, and to fill his life with work which would leave him little leisure.
Rachel Ffrench had not yet left her father's house. Saint Méran had gone away with some suddenness immediately after the dinner party at which the political economist had reigned. Various comments had been made on his departure, but it was not easy to arrive at anything like a definite conclusion. Miss Ffrench was seen no more in the town. Only a few servants remained with her in the house, and these maintained that she was going to Paris to her father's sister, with whom she had lived before her return from abroad. They added that there was no change in her demeanor, that she had dismissed their companions without any explanation. One, it is true, thought she was rather thin—and had "gone off her looks," but this version was not popular and was considered out of accordance with the ideal of her character held in the public mind.
"She does na care," it was said. "She is na hurt. Her brass is safe enow, an' that's aw as ud be loike to trouble her. Pale i'deed! She's too high an' moighty."
Murdoch made his preparations for departure as rapidly as possible. They were rather for his mother and Christian than for himself. They were to leave Broxton also and he had found a home for them elsewhere. One day, as they sat in the little parlor, he rose hurriedly and went to Christian and took both her hands.
"Try to be happy," he said. "Try to be happy."
He spared no effort to make the future bright for them. He gave no thought to himself, his every hour was spent in thinking for and devising new comfort for them.
But at last all was ready, and there was but one day left to them.
The Works were still closed, and would not be reopened for some weeks, but he had obtained permission to go down to his room, and remove his possessions if he chose. So on the morning of this last day he let himself into his "den," and shut himself up in it. Once behind the closed doors, he began a strange labor. He emptied drawers and desk, and burnt every scrap of paper to ashes—drawings, letters, all! Then he destroyed the delicate models and every other remnant of his past labors. There was not so much as an envelope or blotting-pad remaining. When he had done he had made a clean sweep. The room was empty, cold, and bare. He sat down, at last, in the midst of its desolate orderliness.
At that moment a hand was laid upon the door-handle and the door opened; there was a rustle of a woman's dress—and Rachel Ffrench stood before him.
"What are you doing here, in Heaven's name?" he said, rising slowly to meet her.
She cast one glance around the bare room.
"It is true! You are going away!"
"Yes," he answered, "I am going. I have done my last work here to-day."She made a step forward and stood looking at him. She spoke under her breath.
"Every one is going. My father has left me—I ——"
A scarlet spot came out on her cheek, but she did not withdraw her eyes.
"Saint Méran has gone also."
Gradually, as she looked at him, the blood receded from her face and left it like a mask of stone.
"I"—she began, in a sharp whisper, "do you not see? Do you not understand! Ah—my God!"
There was a chair near her and she fell into it, burying her face in the crushed velvet of her mantle as she bowed herself upon the table near.
"Hush!" she cried, "do not speak to me! That it should be I who stooped, and for this—for this! That having battled against my folly so long, I should have let it drag me to the dust at last!"
Her passionate sobs suffocated her. She coald not check or control them. Her slender fingers writhed in their clasp upon each other.
" I never thought of this, God knows!" he said, hoarsely, "though there have been hours when I could have sworn that you had loved me once. I have thought of all things, but never of this—never that you could repent."
She lifted her head.
"That I should repent!" she cried. "Repent! Like this!"
"No," he returned, "I never thought of that, I swear!"
"And it is you," she cried, with scorn,—"you who stand there and look at me and tell me that it is all over!"
"Is it my fault that it is all over?" he demanded. "Is it?""No," she answered, "that is my consolation."
He drew nearer to her.
"You left me nothing," he said,—"nothing. God knows what saved me—I do not. You loved me? You battled against your love?" He laughed aloud. "I was a madman under your window night after night. Forget it, if you can. I cannot. Oh! that I should have stooped for this,' you say. No, it is that I who have loved you should stand here with empty hands!"
She had bowed her face and was sobbing again. But suddenly she rose.
"If I did not know you better," she said, "I should say this was revenge."
"It would be but a poor one," he answered her coldly. She supported herself with one hand on the chair.
"I have fallen very low," she said, "so low that I was weaker than I thought. And now, as you say, 'it is over.' Your hands are empty! Oh! it was a poor passion, and this is the fitting end for it!"
She moved a little toward the door and stopped.
"Good-bye," she said.
In a moment more all that was left was a subtle breath of flower-like fragrance in the atmosphere of the bare room.
It was an hour before he passed through the iron gates, though there had been nothing left to be done inside.
He came out slowly, and having locked the gate, turned toward the Broxton road.
He was going to the little graveyard. It had been a dull gray day, but by the time he reached the place, the sun had crept through the clouds and brightened them,and noting it he felt some vague comfort. It was a desolate place when there was no sun.
When he reached the mound he stood looking down. Since the night he had lain by it looking up at the sky and had made his resolve, the grass had grown longer and thicker and turned from green to brown.
He spoke aloud, just as he had done before.
"It is done," he said. "Your thought was what you dreamed it would be. I have kept my word."
He stopped as if for an answer. But it was very still—so still that the silence was like a Presence. And the mound at his feet lay golden brown in the sunlight, even its long grass unstirred.
They left Broxton the next day and in a week he set sail. As the ship moved away he stood leaning upon the taffrail watching a figure on the shore. It was a girl in a long cloak of gray almost the color of the mist in which she stood—a slender motionless figure—the dark young face turned seaward.
He watched her until he could see her face no longer, but still she had not stirred.
"When I return," he said, scarcely conscious that he spoke, "when I return—it will be to you."
Then the grayness closed about her and she faded slowly from his sight.