|←Chapter XXXIX. "It is done with"||Haworth's by
Chapter XL. "Look Out!"
|Chapter XLI. "It has all been a Lie"→|
The next morning Ffrench rather surprised Murdoch by walking into his cell with the evident intention of paying him a somewhat prolonged visit. It was not, however, the fact of his appearing there which was unusual enough to excite wonder, but a certain degree of mingled constraint and effusiveness in his manner. It was as if he was troubled with some mental compunctions which he was desirous of setting at rest. At times he talked very fast and in a comparatively light and jocular vein, and again he was silent for some minutes, invariably rousing himself from his abstraction with a sudden effort. Several times Murdoch found that he was regarding him with a disturbed air of anxiety.
Before going away he made an erratic and indecisive tour of the little room, glancing at drawings and picking up first one thing and then another.
"You have a good many things here," he said, "of one kind and another."
"Yes," Murdoch answered, absently.
Ffrench glanced around at the jumble of mechanical odds and ends, the plans and models in various stages of neglect or completion.
"It's a queer place," he commented, "and it has an air of significance. It's crammed with ideas—of one kind and another."
"Yes," Murdoch answered, as before.
Ffrench approached him and laid his hand weakly on his shoulder.
"You are a fellow of ideas," he said, "and you have a good deal before you. Whatever disappointments you might meet with, you would always have a great deal before yon. You have ideas. I," with apparent inconsequence, "I haven't, you know."
Murdoch looked somewhat puzzled, but he did not contradict him, so he repeated his statement.
"I haven't, you know. I wish I had."
Then he dropped his hand and looked indefinite again.
"I should like you to always remember that I am your friend," he said. "I wish I could have been of more service to you. You are a fine fellow, Murdoch. I have admired you—I have liked you. Don't forget it."
And he went away carrying the burden of his indecision and embarrassment and good intention with much amiable awkwardness.
That day Murdoch did not see Rachel Ffrench. Circumstances occurred which kept him at work until a late hour. The next day it was the same story, and the next also. A series of incidents seemed to combine against him, and the end of each day found him worn out and fretted. But on the fourth he was free again, and early in the evening found himself within sight of the iron gates. Every pulse in his body throbbed as he passed through them. He was full of intense expectation. He could scarcely bear to think of what was before him. His desperate happiness was a kind of pain. One of his chief longings was that he might find her wearing the pale blue dress again and that when he entered she might be standing in the centre of the room as he had left her. Then it would seem as if there had been no nights and days between the last terribly happy moment and this. The thought which flashed across his mind that there might possibly be some one else in the room was a shock to him.
"If she is not alone," he said to himself, "it will be unbearable."
As he passed up the walk, he came upon a tall white lily blooming on one of the border beds. He was in a sufficiently mystical and emotional mood to be stopped by it.
"It is like her," he said. And he gathered it and took it with him to the house.
The first thing upon which his eye rested when he stood upon the threshold of the room was the pale blue color, and she was standing just as he had left her, it seemed to him upon the very same spot upon which they had parted. His wish had been realized so far at least.
He was obliged to pause a moment to regain his self- control. It was an actual truth that he could not have trusted himself so far as to go in at once.
It was best that he did not. The next instant she turned and spoke to a third person at the other side of the room, and even as she did so caught sight of him and stopped.
"Here is Mr. Murdoch," she said, and paused, waiting for him to come forward. She did not advance to meet him, did not stir until he was scarcely more than a pace from her. She simply waited, watching him as he moved toward her, as if she were a little curious to see what he would do. Then she gave him her hand, and he took it with a feeling that something unnatural had happened, or that he was suddenly awakening from a delusion.
He did not even speak. It was she who spoke, turning toward the person whom she had addressed before he entered.
"You have heard us speak of Mr. Murdoch," she said; and then to himself, This is M. Saint Méran."
M. Saint Méran rose and bowed profoundly. He presented, as his best points, long, graceful limbs and a pair of clear gray eyes, which seemed to hold their opinions in check. He regarded Murdoch with an expression of suave interest and made a well-bred speech of greeting-
Murdoch said nothing. He could think of nothing to say. He was never very ready of speech. He bowed with an uncertain air, and almost immediately wandered off to the other end of the room, holding his lily in his hand. He began to turn over the pages of a book of engravings, seeing none of them. After a little while a peculiar perfume close to him attracted his attention, and he looked downward vacantly and saw the lily. Then he laid it down and moved farther away.
Afterward—he did not know how long afterward—Ffrench came in. He seemed in a very feverish state of mind, talking a great deal and rather inanely, and forcing Murdoch to reply and join in the conversation.
M. Saint Méran held himself with a graceful air of security and self-poise, and made gentle efforts at scientific remark which should also have an interest for genius of a mechanical and inventive turn. But Murdoch's replies were vague. His glance followed Rachel Ffrench. He devoured her with his eyes—a violence which she bore very well. At last—he had not been in the house an hour—he left his chair and went to her.
"I am going away," he said in an undertone. "Good-night!"
She did not seem to hear him. She was speaking to Saint Méran.
"Good-night!" he repeated, in the same tone, not raising it at all, only giving it an intense, concentrated sound.
She turned her face toward him.
"Good-night!" she answered.
And he went away, Ffrench following him to the door with erratic and profuse regrets, which he did not hear at all.
When he got outside, he struck out across the country. The strength with which he held himself in check was a wonder to him. It seemed as if he was not thinking at all—that he did not allow himself to think. He walked fast, it might even be said, violently; the exertion made his head throb and his blood rush through his veins. He walked until at last his heart beat so suffocatingly that he was forced to stop. He threw himself down—almost fell down upon the grass at the wayside and lay with shut eyes. He was giddy and exhausted, and panted for breath. He could not have thought then, if he would; he had gained so much at least. He did not leave the place for an hour. When he did so, it was to walk home by another route, slowly, almost weakly. This route led him by the Briarley cottage, and, as he neared it, he was seized with a fancy for going in. The door was ajar and a light burned in the living-room, and this drew him toward it.Upon the table stood a basket filled with purchases, and
SHE TURNED HER FACE TOWARD HIM. "GOOD-NIGHT," SHE ANSWERED.
She looked up as he came in, but she did not rise.
"Eh! it's thee, is it?" she remarked. "I thowt it wur toime tha wur comin'. Tha'st not been here fur nigh a month."
"I have been—doing a great deal."
"Aye," she answered. "I suppose so." She jerked her thumb toward Granny Dixon's basket chair, which stood empty.
"She's takken down," she said. "She wur takken down a week sin', an' a noice toime we're ha'in' nursin' her. None on us can do anything wi' her but mother—she can settle her, thank th' Amoighty."
She rested her sharp little elbows upon her knees and her chin upon both palms and surveyed him with interest.
"Has tha seed him?" she demanded suddenly.
"Who?" he asked.
"Him," with a nod of her head. "Th' furriner as is. stayin' at Mester Ffrench's. Yo' mun ha' seen him. He's been theer three days."
"I saw him this evening.""I thowt tha mun ha' seed him. He coom o' Monday. He coom fro' France. I should na," with a tone of serious speculation,—"I should na ha' thowt she'd ha' had a Frenchman."
She moved her feet and settled herself more conveniently without moving her eyes from his face.
"I dunnot think much o' Frenchmen mysen," she proceeded. "An' neyther does mother, but they say as this is a rich un an' a grand un. She's lived i' France a good bit, an' happen she does na' moind their ways. She's knowed him afore."
"When?" he asked.
"When she wur theer. She lived theer, yo' know."
Yes, he remembered, she had lived there. He said nothing more, only sat watching the little stunted figure and sharp small face with a sense of mild fascination, wondering dully how much she knew and where she had learned it all, and what she would say next. But she gave him no further information—chiefly because she had no more on hand, there being a limit even to her sagacity. She became suddenly interested in himself.
"Yo're as pale as if yo'd had th' whoopin'-cough," she remarked. "What's wrong wi' yo'?"
"I am tired," he answered. "Worn out."
That was true enough, but it did not satisfy her. Her matter of fact and matronly mind arrived at a direct solution of the question.
"Did yo' ivver think," she put it to him, "as she'd ha' yo'?"
He had no answer to give her. He began to turn deathly white about the lips. She surveyed him with increased interest and proceeded:
"Mother an' me's talked it over," she said. "We tak' th' 'Ha'penny Reader,' an' theer wur a tale in it as towd o' one o' th' nobility as wed a workin' chap—an' mother she said as happen she wur loike her an' ud do it, but I said she would na. Th' chap i' th' tale turnt out to be a earl, as ud been kidnapped by th' gypsies, but yo' nivver wur kidnapt, an' she's noan o' th' soft koind. Th' Lady Geraldine wur a difrient mak'. Theer wur na mich i' her to my moind. She wur allus makkin' out as brass wur nowt, an' talkin' about 'humble virchew' as if theer wur nowt loike it. Yo' would na ketch her talkin' i' that road. Mother she'd sit an' cry until th' babby's bishop wur wet through, but I nivver seed nowt to cry about mysen. She getten th' chap i' th' eend, an' he turnt out to be a earl after aw. But I towd mother as marryin' a workin' man wur na i' her loine."
Murdoch burst into a harsh laugh and got up.
"I've been pretty well talked over, it seems," he said. "I didn't know that before."
"Aye," replied Janey, coolly. "We've talked yo' ower a good bit. Are yo' goin'?"
"Yes," he answered, "I am going."
He went out with an uncertain movement, leaving the door open behind him. As he descended the steps, the light from the room, slanting out into the darkness, struck athwart a face, the body pertaining to which seemed to be leaning against the palings, grasping them with both hands. It was the face of Mr. Briarley, who regarded him with a mingled expression of anxiety and desire to propitiate.
"Is it yo'?" he whispered, as Murdoch neared him.
"Yes," he was answered, somewhat shortly.
Mr. Briarley put out a hand and plucked him by the sleeve.
"I've been waitin' fur yo'," he said in a sonorous whisper which only failed to penetrate the innermost recesses of the dwelling through some miracle.Murdoch turned out of the gate.
"Why?" he asked.
Mr. Briarley glanced toward the house uneasily, and also up and down the road.
"Le's get out o' th' way a bit," he remarked.
Murdoch walked on, and he shuffled a few paces behind him. When they got well into the shadow of the hedge, he stopped. Suddenly he dropped upon his knees and crawling through a very small gap into the field behind, remained there for a few seconds; then he re-appeared panting.
"Theer's no one theer," he said. "I would na ha' risked theer bein' one on 'em lyin' under th' hedge."
"One of whom?" Murdoch inquired.
"I did na say who," he answered.
When he stood on his feet again, he took his companion by the button.
"Theer's a friend o' moine," he said, "as ha' sent a messidge to yo'. This here's it—Look out!"
"What does it mean?" Murdoch asked. "Speak more plainly."
Mr. Briarley became evidently disturbed.
"Nay," he said, "that theer's plain enow fur me. It ud do my business i' quick toime if I——"
He stopped and glanced about him again, and then, without warning, threw himself, so to speak, on Murdoch's shoulder and began to pour a flood of whispers into his ear."Theer wur a chap as were a foo'," he said, "an' he was drawed into bein' a bigger foo' than common. It wur him as getten yo' i' trouble wi' th' stroikers. He did na mean no ill, an'—an' he ses, 'I'll tell him to look out, I'll run th' risk.' He knowed what wur goin' on, an' he ses, 'I'll tell him to look out.'"
"Who was he?" Murdoch interposed.
Mr. Briarley fell back a pace, perspiring profusely, and dabbing at his forehead with his cap.
"He—he wur a friend o' moine," he stammered,—"a friend o' moine as has getten a way o' gettin' hissen i' trouble, an' he ses, ' I'll tell him to look out.'"
"Tell him from me," said Murdoch, "that I am not afraid of anything that may happen."
It was a rash speech, but was not so defiant as it sounded. His only feeling was one of cold carelessness. He wanted to get free and go away and end his night in his silent room at home. But Mr. Briarley kept up with him, edging toward him apologetically as he walked.
"Yo're set agen th' chap fur bein' a foo'," he persisted, breathlessly, "an' I dunnot blame yo'. He's set agen hissen. He's a misforchnit chap as is all us i' trouble. It's set heavy on him, an' ses he, 'I'll tell him to look out.'"
At a turn into a by-lane he stopped.
"I'll go this road," he said, "an' I'll tell him as I've done it."