Part 1 out of 7
[Italics are indicatedby underscores
James Rusk, email@example.com.]
THE NEW MAGDALEN
by Wilkie Collins
TO THE MEMORY OF CHARLES ALLSTON COLLINS. (9th April, 1873.)
The Cottage on the Frontier.
THE place is France.
The time is autumn, in the year eighteen hundred and seventy--the
year of the war between France and Germany.
The persons are, Captain Arnault, of the French army; Surgeon
Surville, of the French ambulance; Surgeon Wetzel, of the German
army; Mercy Merrick, attached as nurse to the French ambulance;
and Grace Roseberry, a traveling lady on her way to England.
THE TWO WOMEN.
IT was a dark night. The rain was pouring in torrents.
Late in the evening a skirmishing party of the French and a
skirmishing party of the Germans had met, by accident, near the
little village of Lagrange, close to the German frontier. In the
struggle that followed, the French had (for once) got the better
of the enemy. For the time, at least, a few hundreds out of the
host of the invaders had been forced back over the frontier. It
was a trifling affair, occurring not long after the great German
victory of Weissenbourg, and the newspapers took little or no
notice of it.
Captain Arnault, commanding on the French side, sat alone in one
of the cottages of the village, inhabited by the miller of the
district. The Captain was reading, by the light of a solitary
tallow-candle, some intercepted dispatches taken from the
Germans. He had suffered the wood fire, scattered over the large
open grate, to burn low; the red embers only faintly illuminated
a part of the room. On the floor behind him lay some of the
miller's empty sacks. In a corner opposite to him was the
miller's solid walnut-wood bed. On the walls all around him were
the miller's colored prints, representing a happy mixture of
devotional and domestic subjects. A door of communication leading
into the kitchen of the cottage had been torn from its hinges,
and used to carry the men wounded in the skirmish from the field.
They were now comfortably laid at rest in the kitchen, under the
care of the French surgeon and the English nurse attached to the
ambulance. A piece of coarse canvas screened the opening between
the two rooms in place of the door. A second door, leading from
the bed-chamber into the yard, was locked; and the wooden shutter
protecting the one window of the room was carefully barred.
Sentinels, doubled in number, were placed at all the outposts.
The French commander had neglected no precaution which could
reasonably insure for himself and for his men a quiet and
Still absorbed in his perusal of the dispatches, and now and then
making notes of what he read by the help of writing materials
placed at his side, Captain Arnault was interrupted by the
appearance of an intruder in the room. Surgeon Surville, entering
from the kitchen, drew aside the canvas screen, and approached
the little round table at which his superior officer was sitting.
"What is it?" said the captain, sharply.
"A question to ask," replied the surgeon. "Are we safe for the
"Why do you want to know?" inquired the captain, suspiciously.
The surgeon pointed to the kitchen, now the hospital devoted to
the wounded men.
"The poor fellows are anxious about the next few hours," he
replied. "They dread a surprise, and they ask me if there is any
reasonable hope of their having one night's rest. What do you
think of the chances?"
The captain shrugged his shoulders. The surgeon persisted.
"Surely you ought to know?" he said.
"I know that we are in possession of the village for the
present," retorted Captain Arnault, "and I know no more. Here are
the papers of the enemy." He held them up and shook them
impatiently as he spoke. "They give me no information that I can
rely on. For all I can tell to the contrary, the main body of the
Germans, outnumbering us ten to one, may be nearer this cottage
than the main body of the French. Draw your own conclusions. I
have nothing more to say."
Having answered in those discouraging terms, Captain Arnault got
on his feet, drew the hood of his great-coat over his head, and
lit a cigar at the candle.
"Where are you going?" asked the surgeon.
"To visit the outposts."
"Do you want this room for a little while?"
"Not for some hours to come. Are you thinking of moving any of
your wounded men in here?"
"I was thinking of the English lady," answered the surgeon. "The
kitchen is not quite the place for her. She would be more
comfortable here; and the English nurse might keep her company."
Captain Arnault smiled, not very pleasantly. "They are two fine
women," he said, "and Surgeon Surville is a ladies' man. Let them
come in, if they are rash enough to trust themselves here with
you." He checked himself on the point of going out, and looked
back distrustfully at the lighted candle. "Caution the women," he
said, "to limit the exercise of their curiosity to the inside of
"What do you mean?"
The captain's forefinger pointed significantly to the closed
"Did you ever know a woman who could resist looking out of
window?" he asked. "Dark as it is, sooner or later these ladies
of yours will feel tempted to open that shutter. Tell them I
don't want the light of the candle to betray my headquarters to
the German scouts. How is the weather? Still raining?"
"So much the better. The Germans won't see us." With that
consolatory remark he unlocked the door leading into the yard,
and walked out.
The surgeon lifted the canvas screen and called into the kitchen:
"Miss Merrick, have you time to take a little rest?"
"Plenty of time," answered a soft voice with an underlying
melancholy in it, plainly distinguishable though it had only
spoken three words.
"Come in, then," continued the surgeon, "and bring the English
lady with you. Here is a quiet room all to yourselves."
He held back the canvas, and the two women appeared.
The nurse led the way--tall, lithe, graceful--attired in her
uniform dress of neat black stuff, with plain linen collar and
cuffs, and with the scarlet cross of the Geneva Convention
embroidered on her left shoulder. Pale and sad, her expression
and manner both eloquently suggestive of suppressed suffering and
sorrow, there was an innate nobility in the carriage of this
woman's head, an innate grandeur in the gaze of her large gray
eyes and in the lines of her finely proportioned face, which made
her irresistibly striking and beautiful, seen under any
circumstances and clad in any dress. Her companion, darker in
complexion and smaller in stature, possessed attractions which
were quite marked enough to account for the surgeon's polite
anxiety to shelter her in the captain's room. The common consent
of mankind would have declared her to be an unusually pretty
woman. She wore the large gray cloak that covered her from head
to foot with a grace that lent its own attractions to a plain and
even a shabby article of dress. The languor in her movements, and
the uncertainty of tone in her voice as she thanked the surgeon
suggested that she was suffering from fatigue. Her dark eyes
searched the dimly-lighted room timidly, and she held fast by the
nurse's arm with the air of a woman whose nerves had been
severely shaken by some recent alarm.
"You have one thing to remember, ladies," said the surgeon.
"Beware of opening the shutter, for fear of the light being seen
through the window. For the rest, we are free to make ourselves
as comfortable here as we can. Compose yourself, dear madam, and
rely on the protection of a Frenchman who is devoted to you!" He
gallantly emphasized his last words by raising the hand of the
English lady to his lips. At the moment when he kissed it the
canvas screen was again drawn aside. A person in the service of
the ambulance appeared, announcing that a bandage had slipped,
and that one of the wounded men was to all appearance bleeding to
death. The surgeon, submitting to destiny with the worst possible
grace, dropped the charming Englishwoman's hand, and returned to
his duties in the kitchen. The two ladies were left together in
"Will you take a chair, madam?" asked the nurse.
me 'madam,'" returned the young lady, cordially. "My name is
Grace Roseberry. What is your name?"
The nurse hesitated. "Not a pretty name, like yours," she said,
and hesitated again. "Call me 'Mercy Merrick,' " she added, after
a moment's consideration.
Had she given an assumed name? Was there some unhappy celebrity
attached to her own name? Miss Roseberry did not wait to ask
herself these questions. "How can I thank you," she exclaimed,
gratefully, "for your sisterly kindness to a stranger like me?"
"I have only done my duty," said Mercy Merrick, a little coldly.
"Don't speak of it."
"I must speak of it. What a situation you found me in when the
French soldiers had driven the Germans away! My
traveling-carriage stopped; the horses seized; I myself in a
strange country at nightfall, robbed of my money and my luggage,
and drenched to the skin by the pouring rain! I am indebted to
you for shelter in this place--I am wearing your clothes--I
should have died of the fright and the exposure but for you. What
return can I make for such services as these?"
Mercy placed a chair for her guest near the captain's table, and
seated herself, at some little distance, on an old chest in a
corner of the room. "May I ask you a question?" she said,
"A hundred questions," cried Grace, "if you like." She looked at
the expiring fire, and at the dimly visible figure of her
companion seated in the obscurest corner of the room. "That
wretched candle hardly gives any light," she said, impatiently.
"It won't last much longer. Can't we make the place more
cheerful? Come out of your corner. Call for more wood and more
Mercy remained in her corner and shook her head. "Candles and
wood are scarce things here," she answered. "We must be patient,
even if we are left in the dark. Tell me," she went on, raising
her quiet voice a little, "how came you to risk crossing the
frontier in wartime?"
Grace's voice dropped when she answered the question. Grace's
momentary gayety of manner suddenly left her.
"I had urgent reasons," she said, "for returning to England."
"Alone?" rejoined the other. "Without any one to protect you?"
Grace's head sank on her bosom. "I have left my only
protector--my father--in the English burial-ground at Rome," she
answered simply. "My mother died, years since, in Canada."
The shadowy figure of the nurse suddenly changed its position on
the chest. She had started as the last word passed Miss
"Do you know Canada?" asked Grace.
"Well," was the brief answer--reluctantly given, short as it was.
"Were you ever near Port Logan?"
"I once lived within a few miles of Port Logan."
"Some time since." With those words Mercy Merrick shrank back
into her corner and changed the subject. "Your relatives in
England must be very anxious about you," she said.
Grace sighed. "I have no relatives in England. You can hardly
imagine a person more friendless than I am. We went away from
Canada, when my father's health failed, to try the climate of
Italy, by the doctor's advice. His death has left me not only
friendless but poor." She paused, and took a leather letter-case
from the pocket of the large gray cloak which the nurse had lent
to her. "My prospects in life," she resumed, "are all contained
in this little case. Here is the one treasure I contrived to
conceal when I was robbed of my other things."
Mercy could just see the letter-case as Grace held it up in the
deepening obscurity of the room. "Have you got money in it?" she
"No; only a few family papers, and a letter from my father,
introducing me to an elderly lady in England--a connection of his
by marriage, whom I have never seen. The lady has consented to
receive me as her companion and reader. If I don't return to
England soon, some other person may get the place."
"Have you no other resource?"
"None. My education has been neglected--we led a wild life in the
far West. I am quite unfit to go out as a governess. I am
absolutely dependent on this stranger, who receives me for my
father's sake." She put the letter-case back in the pocket of her
cloak, and ended her little narrative as unaffectedly as she had
begun it. "Mine is a sad story, is it not?" she said.
The voice of the nurse answered her suddenly and bitterly in
these strange words:
"There are sadder stories than yours. There are thousands of
miserable women who would ask for no greater blessing than to
change places with you."
Grace started. "What can there possibly be to envy in such a lot
"Your unblemished character, and your prospect of being
established honorably in a respectable house."
Grace turned in her chair, and looked wonderingly into the dim
corner of the room.
"How strangely you say that!" she exclaimed. There was no answer;
the shadowy figure on the chest never moved. Grace rose
impulsively, and drawing her chair after her, approached the
nurse. "Is there some romance in your life?" she asked. "Why have
you sacrificed yourself to the terrible duties which I find you
performing here? You interest me indescribably. Give me your
Mercy shrank back, and refused the offered hand.
"Are we not friends?" Grace asked, in astonishment.
"We can never be friends."
The nurse was dumb. Grace called to mind the hesitation that she
had shown when she had mentioned her name, and drew a new
conclusion from it. "Should I be guessing right," she asked,
eagerly, "if I guessed you to be some great lady in disguise?"
Mercy laughed to herself--low and bitterly. "I a great lady!" she
said, contemptuously. "For Heaven's sake, let us talk of
Grace's curiosity was thoroughly roused. She persisted. "Once
more," she whispered, persuasively, "let us be friends." She
gently laid her hand as she spoke on Mercy's shoulder. Mercy
roughly shook it off. There was a rudeness in the action which
would have offended the most patient woman living. Grace drew
back indignantly. "Ah!" she cried, "you are cruel."
"I am kind," answered the nurse, speaking more sternly than ever.
"Is it kind to keep me at a distance? I have told you my story."
The nurse's voice rose excitedly. "Don't tempt me to speak out,"
she said; "you will regret it."
Grace declined to accept the warning. "I have placed confidence
in you," she went on. "It is ungenerous to lay me under an
obligation, and then to shut me out of your confidence in
"You _will_ have it?" said Mercy Merrick. "You _shall_ have it!
Sit down again." Grace's heart began to quicken its beat in
expectation of the disclosure that was to come. She drew her
chair closer to the chest on which the nurse was sitting. With a
firm hand Mercy put the chair back to a distance from her. "Not
so near me!" she said, harshly.
"Not so near," repeated the sternly resolute voice. "Wait till
you have heard what I have to say."
Grace obeyed without a word more. There was a momentary silence.
A faint flash of light leaped up from the expiring candle, and
showed Mercy crouching on the chest, with her elbows on her
knees, and her face hidden in her hands. The next instant the
room was buried in obscurity. As the darkness fell on the two
women the nurse spoke.
MAGDALEN--IN MODERN TIMES.
"WHEN your mother was alive were you ever out with her after
nightfall in the streets of a great city?"
In those extraordinary terms Mercy Merrick opened the
confidential interview which Grace Roseberry had forced on her.
Grace answered, simply, "I don't understand you."
"I will put it in another way," said the nurse. Its unnatural
hardness and sternness of tone passed away from her voice, and
its native gentleness and sadness returned, as she made that
reply. "You read the newspapers like the rest of the world," she
went on; "have you ever read of your unhappy fellow- creatures
(the starving outcasts of the population) whom Want has driven
Still wondering, Grace answered that she had read of such things
often, in newspapers and in books.
"Have you heard--when those starving and sinning fellow-creatures
happened to be women--of Refuges established to protect and
The wonder in Grace 's mind passed away, and a vague suspicion of
something painful to come took its place. "These are
extraordinary questions," she said, nervously. "What do you
"Answer me," the nurse insisted. "Have you heard of the Refuges?
Have you heard of the Women?"
"Move your chair a little further away from me." She paused. Her
voice, without losing its steadiness, fell to its lowest tones."
_I_ was once of those women," she said, quietly.
Grace sprang to her feet with a faint cry. She stood
petrified--incapable of uttering a word.
"_I_ have been in a Refuge," pursued the sweet, sad voice of the
other woman." _I_ have been in a Prison. Do you still wish to be
my friend? Do you still insist on sitting close by me and taking
my hand?" She waited for a reply, and no reply came. "You see you
were wrong," she went on, gently, "when you called me cruel--and
I was right when I told you I was kind."
At that appeal Grace composed herself, and spoke. "I don't wish
to offend you--" she began, confusedly.
Mercy Merrick stopped her there.
"You don't offend me," she said, without the faintest note of
displeasure in her tone. "I am accustomed to stand in the pillory
of my own past life. I sometimes ask myself if it was all my
fault. I sometimes wonder if Society had no duties toward me when
I was a child selling matches in the street--when I was a
hard-working girl fainting at my needle for want of food." Her
voice faltered a little for the first time as it pronounced those
words; she waited a moment, and recovered herself. "It's too late
to dwell on these things now," she said, resignedly. "Society can
subscribe to reclaim me; but Society can't take me back. You see
me here in a place of trust--patiently, humbly, doing all the
good I can. It doesn't matter! Here, or elsewhere, what I _am_
can never alter what I _was_. For three years past all that a
sincerely penitent woman can do I have done. It doesn't matter!
Once let my past story be known, and the shadow of it covers me;
the kindest people shrink."
She waited again. Would a word of sympathy come to comfort her
from the other woman's lips? No! Miss Roseberry was shocked; Miss
Roseberry was confused. "I am very sorry for you," was all that
Miss Roseberry could say.
"Everybody is sorry for me," answered the nurse, as patiently as
ever; "everybody is kind to me. But the lost place is not to be
regained. I can't get back! I can't get back?" she cried, with a
passionate outburst of despair--checked instantly the moment it
had escaped her. "Shall I tell you what my experience has been?"
she resumed. "Will you hear the story of Magdalen--in modern
Grace drew back a step; Mercy instantly understood her.
"I am going to tell you nothing that you need shrink from
hearing," she said. "A lady in your position would not understand
the trials and the struggles that I have passed through. My story
shall begin at the Refuge. The matron sent me out to service with
the character that I had honestly earned--the character of a
reclaimed woman. I justified the confidence placed in me; I was a
faithful servant. One day my mistress sent for me--a kind
mistress, if ever there was one yet. 'Mercy, I am sorry for you;
it has come out that I took you from a Refuge; I shall lose every
servant in the house; you must go.' I went back to the
matron--another kind woman. She received me like a mother. 'We
will try again, Mercy; don't be cast down.' I told you I had been
Grace began to feel interested in spite of herself. She answered
with something like warmth in her tone. She returned to her
chair--placed at its safe and significant distance from the
The nurse went on:
"My next place was in Canada, with an officer's wife: gentlefolks
who had emigrated. More kindness; and, this time, a pleasant,
peaceful life for me. I said to myself, 'Is the lost place
regained? _Have_ I got back?' My mistress died. New people came
into our neighborhood. There was a young lady among them--my
master began to think of another wife. I have the misfortune (in
my situation) to be what is called a handsome woman; I rouse the
curiosity of strangers. The new people asked questions about me;
my master's answers did not satisfy them. In a word, they found
me out. The old story again! 'Mercy, I am very sorry; scandal is
busy with you and with me; we are innocent, but there is no help
for it--we must part.' I left the place; having gained one
advantage during my stay in Canada, which I find of use to me
"What is it?"
"Our nearest neighbors were French-Canadians. I learned to speak
the French language."
"Did you return to London?"
"Where else could I go, without a character?" said Mercy, sadly.
"I went back again to the matron. Sickness had broken out in the
Refuge; I made myself useful as a nurse. One of the doctors was
struck with me--'fell in love' with me, as the phrase is. He
would have married me. The nurse, as an honest woman, was bound
to tell him the truth. He never appeared again. The old story! I
began to be weary of saying to myself, 'I can't get back! I can't
get back!' Despair got hold of me, the despair that hardens the
heart. I might have committed suicide; I might even have drifted
back into my old life--but for one man."
At those last words her voice--quiet and even through the earlier
part of her sad story--began to falter once more. She stopped,
following silently the memories and associations roused in her by
what she had just said. Had she forgotten the presence of another
person in the room? Grace's curiosity left Grace no resource but
to say a word on her side.
"Who was the man?" she asked. "How did he befriend you?"
"Befriend me? He doesn't even know that such a person as I am is
That strange answer, naturally enough, only strengthened the
anxiety of Grace to hear more. "You said just now--" she began.
"I said just now that he saved me. He did save me; you shall hear
how. One Sunday our regular clergyman at the Refuge was not able
to officiate. His place was taken by a stranger, quite a young
man. The matron told us the stranger's name was Julian Gray. I
sat in the back row of seats, under the shadow of the gallery,
where I could see him without his seeing me. His text was from
the words, 'Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that
repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which
need no repentance. 'What happier women might have thought of his
sermon I cannot say; there was not a dry eye among us at the
Refuge. As for me, he touched my heart as no man has touched it
before or since. The hard despair melted in me at the sound of
his voice; the weary round of my life showed its nobler side
again while he spoke. From that time I have accepted my hard lot,
I have been a patient woman. I might have been something more, I
might have been a happy woman, if I could have prevailed on
myself to speak to Julian Gray."
"What hindered you from speaking to him?"
"I was afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"Afraid of making my hard life harder still."
A woman who could have sympathized with her would perhaps have
guessed what those words meant. Grace was simply embarrassed by
her; and Grace failed to guess.
"I don't understand you," she said.
There was no alternative for Mercy but to own the truth in plain
words. She sighed, and said the words. "I was afraid I might
interest him in my sorrows, and might set my heart on him in
return." The utter absence of any fellow-feeling with her on
Grace's side expressed itself unconsciously in the plainest
"You!" she exclaimed, in a tone of blank astonishment.
The nurse rose slowly to her feet. Grace's expression of surprise
told her plainly--almost brutally--that her confession had gone
"I astonish you?" she said. "Ah, my young lady, you don't know
what rough usage a woman's heart can bear, and still beat truly!
Before I saw Julian Gray I only knew men as objects of horror to
me. Let us drop the subject. The preacher at the Refuge is
nothing but a remembrance now--the one welcome remembrance of my
life! I have nothing more to tell you. You insisted on hearing my
story--you have heard it."
"I have not
heard how you found employment here," said Grace, continuing the
conversation with uneasy politeness, as she best might.
Mercy crossed the room, and slowly raked together the last living
embers of the fire.
"The matron has friends in France," she answered, "who are
connected with the military hospitals. It was not difficult to
get me the place, under those circumstances. Society can find a
use for me here. My hand is as light, my words of comfort are as
welcome, among those suffering wretches" (she pointed to the room
in which the wounded men were lying) "as if I was the most
reputable woman breathing. And if a stray shot comes my way
before the war is over--well! Society will be rid of me on easy
She stood looking thoughtfully into the wreck of the fire--as if
she saw in it the wreck of her own life. Common humanity made it
an act of necessity to say something to her. Grace
considered--advanced a step toward her--stopped--and took refuge
in the most trivial of all the common phrases which one human
being can address to another.
"If there is anything I can do for you--" she began. The
sentence, halting there, was never finished. Miss Roseberry was
just merciful enough toward the lost woman who had rescued and
sheltered her to feel that it was needless to say more.
The nurse lifted her noble head and advanced slowly toward the
canvas screen to return to her duties. "Miss Roseberry might have
taken my hand!" she thought to herself, bitterly. No! Miss
Roseberry stood there at a distance, at a loss what to say next.
"What can you do for me?" Mercy asked, stung by the cold courtesy
of her companion into a momentary outbreak of contempt. "Can you
change my identity? Can you give me the name and the place of an
innocent woman? If I only had your chance! If I only had your
reputation and your prospects!" She laid one hand over her bosom,
and controlled herself. "Stay here," she resumed, "while I go
back to my work. I will see that your clothes are dried. You
shall wear my clothes as short a time as possible."
With those melancholy words--touchingly, not bitterly spoken--she
moved to pass into the kitchen, when she noticed that the
pattering sound of the rain against the window was audible no
more. Dropping the canvas for the moment, she retraced her steps,
and, unfastening the wooden shutter, looked out.
The moon was rising dimly in the watery sky; the rain had ceased;
the friendly darkness which had hidden the French position from
the German scouts was lessening every moment. In a few hours more
(if nothing happened) the English lady might resume her journey.
In a few hours more the morning would dawn.
Mercy lifted her hand to close the shutter. Before she could
fasten it the report of a rifle-shot reached the cottage from one
of the distant posts. It was followed almost instantly by a
second report, nearer and louder than the first. Mercy paused,
with the shutter in her hand, and listened intently for the next
THE GERMAN SHELL.
A THIRD rifle-shot rang through the night air, close to the
cottage. Grace started and approached the window in alarm.
"What does that firing mean?" she asked.
"Signals from the outposts," the nurse quietly replied.
"Is there any danger? Have the Germans come back?"
Surgeon Surville answered the question. He lifted the canvas
screen, and looked into the room as Miss Roseberry spoke.
"The Germans are advancing on us," he said. "Their vanguard is in
Grace sank on the chair near her, trembling from head to foot.
Mercy advanced to the surgeon, and put the decisive question to
"Do we defend the position?" she inquired.
Surgeon Surville ominously shook his head.
"Impossible! We are outnumbered as usual--ten to one."
The shrill roll of the French drums was heard outside.
"There is the retreat sounded!" said the surgeon. "The captain is
not a man to think twice about what he does. We are left to take
care of ourselves. In five minutes we must be out of this place."
A volley of rifle-shots rang out as he spoke. The German vanguard
was attacking the French at the outposts. Grace caught the
surgeon entreatingly by the arm. "Take me with you," she cried.
"Oh, sir, I have suffered from the Germans already! Don't forsake
me, if they come back!" The surgeon was equal to the occasion; he
placed the hand of the pretty Englishwoman on his breast. "Fear
nothing, madam," he said, looking as if he could have annihilated
the whole German force with his own invincible arm. "A
Frenchman's heart beats under your hand. A Frenchman's devotion
protects you." Grace's head sank on his shoulder. Monsieur
Surville felt that he had asserted himself; he looked round
invitingly at Mercy. She, too, was an attractive woman. The
Frenchman had another shoulder at _her_ service. Unhappily the
room was dark--the look was lost on Mercy. She was thinking of
the helpless men in the inner chamber, and she quietly recalled
the surgeon to a sense of his professional duties.
"What is to become of the sick and wounded?" she asked.
Monsieur Surville shrugged one shoulder--the shoulder that was
"The strongest among them we can take away with us," he said.
"The others must be left here. Fear nothing for yourself, dear
lady. There will be a place for you in the baggage-wagon."
"And for me, too?" Grace pleaded, eagerly.
The surgeon's invincible arm stole round the young lady's waist,
and answered mutely with a squeeze.
"Take her with you," said Mercy. "My place is with the men whom
you leave behind."
Grace listened in amazement. "Think what you risk," she said "if
you stop here."
Mercy pointed to her left shoulder.
"Don't alarm yourself on my account," she answered; "the red
cross will protect me."
Another roll of the drum warned the susceptible surgeon to take
his place as director-general of the ambulance without any
further delay. He conducted Grace to a chair, and placed both her
hands on his heart this time, to reconcile her to the misfortune
of his absence. "Wait here till I return for you," he whispered.
"Fear nothing, my charming friend. Say to yourself, 'Surville is
the soul of honor! Surville is devoted to me!'" He struck his
breast; he again forgot the obscurity in the room, and cast one
look of unutterable homage at his charming friend. "A _bientot!_"
he cried, and kissed his hand and disappeared.
As the canvas screen fell over him the sharp report of the
rifle-firing was suddenly and grandly dominated by the roar of
cannon. The instant after a shell exploded in the garden outside,
within a few yards of the window.
Grace sank on her knees with a shriek of terror. Mercy, without
losing her self-possession, advanced to the window and looked
"The moon has risen," she said. "The Germans are shelling the
Grace rose, and ran to her for protection.
"Take me away!" she cried. "We shall be killed if we stay here."
She stopped, looking in astonishment at the tall black figure of
the nurse, standing immovably by the window. "Are you made of
iron?" she exclaimed. "Will nothing frighten you?"
Mercy smiled sadly. "Why should I be afraid of losing my life?"
she answered. "I have nothing worth living for!"
The roar of the cannon shook the cottage for the second time. A
second shell exploded in the courtyard, on the opposite side of
Bewildered by the noise, panic-stricken as the danger from the
shells threatened the cottage more and more nearly, Grace threw
her arms round the nurse, and clung, in the abject familiarity of
terror, to the woman whose hand she had shrunk from touching not
five minutes since. "Where is it safest?" she cried. "Where can I
"How can I tell where the next shell will fall?" Mercy answered,
The steady composure of the one woman seemed to madden the other.
Releasing the nurse, Grace looked wildly round for a way of
escape from the cottage. Making first for the kitchen, she was
driven back by the clamor and confusion attending the removal of
those among the wounded who were strong enough to be placed in
the wagon. A second look round showed her the door leading into
the yard. She rushed to it with a cry of relief. She had just
laid her hand on the lock when the third report of cannon burst
over the place.
Starting back a step, Grace lifted her hands mechanically to her
ears. At the same moment the third shell burst through the roof
of the cottage, and exploded in the room, just inside the door.
Mercy sprang forward, unhurt, from her place at the window. The
burning fragments of the shell were already firing the dry wooden
floor, and in the midst of them, dimly seen through the smoke,
lay the insensible body of her companion in the room. Even at
that dreadful moment the nurse's presence of mind did not fail
her. Hurrying back to the place that she had just left, near
which she had already noticed the miller's empty sacks lying in a
heap, she seized two of them, and, throwing them on the
smoldering floor, trampled out the fire. That done, she knelt by
the senseless woman, and lifted her head.
Was she wounded? or dead?
Mercy raised one helpless hand, and laid her fingers on the
wrist. While she was still vainly trying to feel for the beating
of the pulse, Surgeon Surville (alarmed for the ladies) hurried
in to inquire if any harm had been done.
Mercy called to him to approach. "I am afraid the shell has
struck her," she said, yielding her place to him. "See if she is
The surgeon's anxiety for his charming patient expressed itself
briefly in an oath, with a prodigious emphasis laid on one of the
letters in it--the letter R. "Take off her cloak," he cried,
raising his hand to her neck. "Poor angel! She has turned in
falling; the string is twisted round her throat."
Mercy removed the cloak. It dropped on the floor as the surgeon
lifted Grace in his arms. "Get a candle," he said, impatiently;
"they will give you one in the kitchen." He tried to feel the
pulse: his hand trembled, the noise and confusion in the kitchen
bewildered him. "Just Heaven!" he exclaimed. "My emotions
overpower me!" Mercy approached him with the candle. The light
disclosed the frightful injury which a fragment of the shell had
inflicted on the Englishwoman's head. Surgeon Surville's manner
altered on the instant. The expression of anxiety left his face;
its professional composure covered it suddenly like a mask. What
was the object of his admiration now? An inert burden in his
The change in his face was not lost on Mercy. Her large gray eyes
watched him attentively. "Is the lady seriously wounded?" she
"Don't trouble yourself to hold the light any longer," was the
cool reply. "It's all over--I can do nothing for her."
Surgeon Surville nodded and shook his fist in the direction of
the outposts. "Accursed Germans!" he cried, and looked down at
the dead face on his arm, and shrugged his shoulders resignedly.
"The fortune of war!" he said as he lifted the body and placed it
on the bed in one corner of the room. "Next time, nurse, it may
be you or me. Who knows? Bah! the problem of human destiny
disgusts me." He turned from the bed, and illustrated his disgust
by spitting on the fragments of the exploded shell. "We must
leave her there," he resumed. "She was once a charming
person--she is nothing now. Come away, Miss Mercy, before it is
He offered his arm to the nurse; the creaking of the
baggage-wagon, starting on its journey, was heard outside, and
the shrill roll of the drums was renewed in the distance. The
retreat had begun.
Mercy drew aside the canvas, and saw the badly wounded men, left
helpless at the mercy of the enemy, on their straw beds. She
refused the offer of Monsieur Surville's arm.
"I have already told you that I shall stay here," she answered.
Monsieur Surville lifted his hands in polite remonstrance. Mercy
held back the curtain, and pointed to the cottage door.
"Go," she said. "My mind is made up."
Even at that final moment the Frenchman asserted himself. He made
his exit with unimpaired grace and dignity. "Madam," he said,
"you are sublime!" With that parting compliment the man of
gallantry--true to the last to his admiration of the sex--bowed,
with his hand on his heart, and left the cottage.
Mercy dropped the canvas over the doorway. She was alone with the
The last tramp of footsteps, the last rumbling of the wagon
wheels, died away in the distance. No renewal of firing from the
position occupied by the enemy disturbed the silence that
followed. The Germans knew that the French were in retreat. A few
minutes more and they would take possession of the abandoned
village: the tumult of their approach should become audible at
the cottage. In the meantime the stillness was terrible. Even the
wounded wretches who were left in the kitchen waited their fate
Alone in the room, Mercy's first look was directed to the bed.
The two women had met in the confusion of the first skirmish at
the close of twilight. Separated, on their arrival at the
cottage, by the duties required of the nurse, they had only met
again in the captain's room. The acquaintance between them had
been a short one; and it had given no promise of ripening into
friendship. But the fatal accident had roused Mercy's interest in
the stranger. She took the candle, and approached the corpse of
the woman who had been literally killed at her side.
She stood by the bed, looking down in the silence of the night at
the stillness of the dead face.
It was a striking face--once seen (in life or in death) not to be
forgotten afterward. The forehead was unusually low and broad;
the eyes unusually far apart; the mouth and chin remarkably
small. With tender hands Mercy smoothed the disheveled hair and
arranged the crumpled dress. "Not five minutes since," she
thought to herself, "I was longing to change places with _you!_"
She turned from the bed with a sigh. "I wish I could change
The silence began to oppress her. She walked slowly to the other
end of the room.
The cloak on the floor--her own cloak, which she had lent to Miss
Roseberry--attracted her attention as she passed it. She picked
it up and brushed the dust from it, and laid it across a chair.
This done, she put the light back on the table, and going to the
window, listened for the first sounds of the German advance. The
faint passage of the wind through some trees near at hand was the
only sound that caught her ears. She turned from the window, and
seated herself at the table, thinking. Was there any duty still
left undone that Christian charity owed to the dead? Was there
any further service that pressed for performance in the interval
before the Germans appeared?
Mercy recalled the conversation that had passed between her ill-
fated companion and herself . Miss Roseberry had spoken of her
object in returning to England. She had mentioned a lady--a
connection by marriage, to whom she was personally a
stranger--who was waiting to receive her. Some one capable of
stating how the poor creature had met with her death ought to
write to her only friend. Who was to do it? There was nobody to
do it but the one witness of the catastrophe now left in the
She lifted the cloak from the chair on which she had placed it,
and took from the pocket the leather letter-case which Grace had
shown to her. The only way of discovering the address to write to
in England was to open the case and examine the papers inside.
Mercy opened the case--and stopped, feeling a strange reluctance
to carry the investigation any farther.
A moment's consideration satisfied her that her scruples were
misplaced. If she respected the case as inviolable, the Germans
would certainly not hesitate to examine it, and the Germans would
hardly trouble themselves to write to England. Which were the
fittest eyes to inspect the papers of the deceased lady--the eyes
of men and foreigners, or the eyes of her own countrywoman?
Mercy's hesitation left her. She emptied the contents of the case
on the table.
That trifling action decided the whole future course of her life.
Some letters, tied together with a ribbon, attracted Mercy's
attention first. The ink in which the addresses were written had
faded with age. The letters, directed alternately
to Colonel Roseberry and to the Honorable Mrs. Roseberry,
contained a correspondence between the husband and wife at a time
when the Colonel's military duties had obliged him to be absent
from home. Mercy tied the letters up again, and passed on to the
papers that lay next in order under her hand.
These consisted of a few leaves pinned together, and headed (in a
woman's handwriting) "My Journal at Rome." A brief examination
showed that the journal had been written by Miss Roseberry, and
that it was mainly devoted to a record of the last days of her
After replacing the journal and the correspondence in the case,
the one paper left on the table was a letter. The envelope, which
was unclosed, bore this address: "Lady Janet Roy, Mablethorpe
House, Kensington, London." Mercy took the inclosure from the
open envelope. The first lines she read informed her that she had
found the Colonel's letter of introduction, presenting his
daughter to her protectress on her arrival in England
Mercy read the letter through. It was described by the writer as
the last efforts of a dying man. Colonel Roseberry wrote
affectionately of his daughter's merits, and regretfully of her
neglected education--ascribing the latter to the pecuniary losses
which had forced him to emigrate to Canada in the character of a
poor man. Fervent expressions of gratitude followed, addressed to
Lady Janet. "I owe it to you," the letter concluded, "that I am
dying with my mind at ease about the future of my darling girl.
To your generous protection I commit the one treasure I have left
to me on earth. Through your long lifetime you have nobly used
your high rank and your great fortune as a means of doing good. I
believe it will not be counted among the least of your virtues
hereafter that you comforted the last hours of an old soldier by
opening your heart and your home to his friendless child."
So the letter ended. Mercy laid it down with a heavy heart. What
a chance the poor girl had lost! A woman of rank and fortune
waiting to receive her--a woman so merciful and so generous that
the father's mind had been easy about the daughter on his
deathbed--and there the daughter lay, beyond the reach of Lady
Janet's kindness, beyond the need of Lady Janet's help!
The French captain's writing-materials were left on the table.
Mercy turned the letter over so that she might write the news of
Miss Roseberry's death on the blank page at the end. She was
still considering what expressions she should use, when the sound
of complaining voices from the next room caught her ear. The
wounded men left behind were moaning for help--the deserted
soldiers were losing their fortitude at last.
She entered the kitchen. A cry of delight welcomed her
appearance--the mere sight of her composed the men. From one
straw bed to another she passed with comforting words that gave
them hope, with skilled and tender hands that soothed their pain.
They kissed the hem of her black dress, they called her their
guardian angel, as the beautiful creature moved among them, and
bent over their hard pillows her gentle, compassionate face. "I
will be with you when the Germans come," she said, as she left
them to return to her unwritten letter. "Courage, my poor
fellows! you are not deserted by your nurse."
"Courage, madam!" the men replied; "and God bless you!"
If the firing had been resumed at that moment--if a shell had
struck her dead in the act of succoring the afflicted, what
Christian judgment would have hesitated to declare that there was
a place for this woman in heaven? But if the war ended and left
her still living, where was the place for her on earth? Where
were her prospects? Where was her home?
She returned to the letter. Instead, however, of seating herself
to write, she stood by the table, absently looking down at the
morsel of paper.
A strange fancy had sprung to life in her mind on re-entering the
room; she herself smiled faintly at the extravagance of it. What
if she were to ask Lady Janet Roy to let her supply Miss
Roseberry's place? She had met with Miss Roseberry under critical
circumstances, and she had done for her all that one woman could
do to help another. There was in this circumstance some little
claim to notice, perhaps, if Lady Janet had no other companion
and reader in view. Suppose she ventured to plead her own
cause--what would the noble and merciful lady do? She would write
back, and say, "Send me references to your character, and I will
see what can be done." Her character! Her references! Mercy
laughed bitterly, and sat down to write in the fewest words all
that was needed from her--a plain statement of the facts.
No! Not a line could she put on the paper. That fancy of hers was
not to be dismissed at will. Her mind was perversely busy now
with an imaginative picture of the beauty of Mablethorpe House
and the comfort and elegance of the life that was led there. Once
more she thought of the chance which Miss Roseberry had lost.
Unhappy creature! what a home would have been open to her if the
shell had only fallen on the side of the window, instead of on
the side of the yard!
Mercy pushed the letter away from her, and walked impatiently to
and fro in the room.
The perversity in her thoughts was not to be mastered in that
way. Her mind only abandoned one useless train of reflection to
occupy itself with another. She was now looking by anticipation
at her own future. What were her prospects (if she lived through
it) when the war was over? The experience of the past delineated
with pitiless fidelity the dreary scene. Go where she might, do
what she might, it would always end in the same way. Curiosity
and admiration excited by her beauty; inquiries made about her;
the story of the past discovered; Society charitably sorry for
her; Society generously subscribing for her; and still, through
all the years of her life, the same result in the end--the shadow
of the old disgrace surrounding her as with a pestilence,
isolating her among other women, branding her, even when she had
earned her pardon in the sight of God, with the mark of an
indelible disgrace in the sight of man: there was the prospect!
And she was only five-and-twenty last birthday; she was in the
prime of her health and her strength; she might live, in the
course of nature, fifty years more!
She stopped again at the bedside; she looked again at the face of
To what end had the shell struck the woman who had some hope in
her life, and spared the woman who had none? The words she had
herself spoken to Grace Roseberry came back to her as she thought
of it. "If I only had your chance! If I only had your reputation
and your prospects!" And there was the chance wasted! there were
the enviable prospects thrown away! It was almost maddening to
contemplate that result, feeling her own position as she felt it.
In the bitter mockery of despair she bent over the lifeless
figure, and spoke to it as if it had ears to hear her. "Oh!" she
said, longingly, "if you could be Mercy Merrick, and if I could
be Grace Roseberry, _now!_"
The instant the words passed her lips she started into an erect
position. She stood by the bed with her eyes staring wildly into
empty space; with her brain in a flame; with her heart beating as
if it would stifle her. "If you could be Mercy Merrick, and if I
could be Grace Roseberry, now!" In one breathless moment the
thought assumed a new development in her mind. In one breathless
moment the conviction struck her like an electric shock. _She
might be Grace Roseberry if she dared!_ There was absolutely
nothing to stop her from presenting herself to Lady Janet Roy
under Grace's name and in Grace's place!
What were the risks? Where was the weak point in the scheme?
Grace had said it herself in so many words--she and Lady Janet
had never seen each other. Her friends were in Canada; her
relations in England were dead. Mercy knew the place in which she
had lived--the place called Port Logan--as well as she had known
it herself. Mercy had only to read the manuscript journal to be
able to answer any questions relating to the visit to Rome and to
Colonel Roseberry's death. She had no accompl ished lady to
personate: Grace had spoken herself--her father's letter spoke
also in the plainest terms--of her neglected education.
Everything, literally everything, was in the lost woman's favor.
The people with whom she had been connected in the ambulance had
gone, to return no more. Her own clothes were on Miss Roseberry
at that moment--marked with her own name. Miss Roseberry's
clothes, marked with _her_ name, were drying, at Mercy's
disposal, in the next room. The way of escape from the
unendurable humiliation of her present life lay open before her
at last. What a prospect it was! A new identity, which she might
own anywhere! a new name, which was beyond reproach! a new past
life, into which all the world might search, and be welcome! Her
color rose, her eyes sparkled; she had never been so irresistibly
beautiful as she looked at the moment when the new future
disclosed itself, radiant with new hope.
She waited a minute, until she could look at her own daring
project from another point of view. Where was the harm of it?
what did her conscience say?
As to Grace, in the first place. What injury was she doing to a
woman who was dead? The question answered itself. No injury to
the woman. No injury to her relations. Her relations were dead
As to Lady Janet, in the second place. If she served her new
mistress faithfully, if she filled her new sphere honorably, if
she was diligent under instruction and grateful for kindness--if,
in one word, she was all that she might be and would be in the
heavenly peace and security of that new life--what injury was she
doing to Lady Janet? Once more the question answered itself. She
might, and would, give Lady Janet cause to bless the day when she
first entered the house.
She snatched up Colonel Roseberry's letter, and put it into the
case with the other papers. The opportunity was before her; the
chances were all in her favor; her conscience said nothing
against trying the daring scheme. She decided then and
there--"I'll do it!"
Something jarred on her finer sense, something offended her
better nature, as she put the case into the pocket of her dress.
She had decided, and yet she was not at ease; she was not quite
sure of having fairly questioned her conscience yet. What if she
laid the letter-case on the table again, and waited until her
excitement had all cooled down, and then put the contemplated
project soberly on its trial before her own sense of right and
She thought once--and hesitated. Before she could think twice,
the distant tramp of marching footsteps and the distant clatter
of horses' hoofs were wafted to her on the night air. The Germans
were entering the village! In a few minutes more they would
appear in the cottage; they would summon her to give an account
of herself. There was no time for waiting until she was composed
again. Which should it be--the new life, as Grace Roseberry? or
the old life, as Mercy Merrick?
She looked for the last time at the bed. Grace's course was run;
Grace's future was at her disposal. Her resolute nature, forced
to a choice on the instant, held by the daring alternative. She
persisted in the determination to take Grace's place.
The tramping footsteps of the Germans came nearer and nearer. The
voices of the officers were audible, giving the words of command.
She seated herself at the table, waiting steadily for what was to
The ineradicable instinct of the sex directed her eyes to her
dress, before the Germans appeared. Looking it over to see that
it was in perfect order, her eyes fell upon the red cross on her
left shoulder. In a moment it struck her that her nurse's costume
might involve her in a needless risk. It associated her with a
public position; it might lead to inquiries at a later time, and
those inquiries might betray her.
She looked round. The gray cloak which she had lent to Grace
attracted her attention. She took it up, and covered herself with
it from head to foot.
The cloak was just arranged round her when she heard the outer
door thrust open, and voices speaking in a strange tongue, and
arms grounded in the room behind her. Should she wait to be
discovered? or should she show herself of her own accord? It was
less trying to such a nature as hers to show herself than to
wait. She advanced to enter the kitchen. The canvas curtain, as
she stretched out her hand to it, was suddenly drawn back from
the other side, and three men confronted her in the open doorway.
THE GERMAN SURGEON.
THE youngest of the three strangers--judging by features,
complexion, and manner--was apparently an Englishman. He wore a
military cap and military boots, but was otherwise dressed as a
civilian. Next to him stood an officer in Prussian uniform, and
next to the officer was the third and the oldest of the party. He
also was dressed in uniform, but his appearance was far from
being suggestive of the appearance of a military man. He halted
on one foot, he stooped at the shoulders, and instead of a sword
at his side he carried a stick in his hand. After looking sharply
through a large pair of tortoise-shell spectacles, first at
Mercy, then at the bed, then all round the room, he turned with a
cynical composure of manner to the Prussian officer, and broke
the silence in these words:
"A woman ill on the bed; another woman in attendance on her, and
no one else in the room. Any necessity, major, for setting a
"No necessity," answered the major. He wheeled round on his heel
and returned to the kitchen. The German surgeon advanced a
little, led by his professional instinct, in the direction of the
bedside. The young Englishman, whose eyes had remained riveted in
admiration on Mercy, drew the canvas screen over the doorway and
respectfully addressed her in the French language.
"May I ask if I am speaking to a French lady?" he said.
"I am an Englishwoman," Mercy replied.
The surgeon heard the answer. Stopping short on his way to the
bed, he pointed to the recumbent figure on it, and said to Mercy,
in good English, spoken with a strong German accent.
"Can I be of any use there?"
His manner was ironically courteous, his harsh voice was pitched
in one sardonic monotony of tone. Mercy took an instantaneous
dislike to this hobbling, ugly old man, staring at her rudely
through his great tortoiseshell spectacles.
"You can be of no use, sir," she said, shortly. "The lady was
killed when your troops shelled this cottage."
The Englishman started, and looked compassionately toward the
bed. The German refreshed himself with a pinch of snuff, and put
"Has the body been examined by a medical man?" he asked.
Mercy ungraciously limited her reply to the one necessary word
The present surgeon was not a man to be daunted by a lady's
disapproval of him. He went on with his questions.
"Who has examined the body?" he inquired next.
Mercy answered, "The doctor attached to the French ambulance."
The German grunted in contemptuous disapproval of all Frenchmen,
and all French institutions. The Englishman seized his first
opportunity of addressing himself to Mercy once more.
"Is the lady a countrywoman of ours?" he asked, gently.
Mercy considered before she answered him. With the object she had
in view, there might be serious reasons for speaking with extreme
caution when she spoke of Grace.
"I believe so," she said. "We met here by accident. I know
nothing of her."
"Not even her name?" inquired the German surgeon.
Mercy's resolution was hardly equal yet to giving her own name
openly as the name of Grace. She took refuge in flat denial.
"Not even her name," she repeated obstinately.
The old man stared at her more rudely than ever, considered with
himself, and took the candle from the table. He hobbled back to
the bed and examined the figure laid on it in silence. The
Englishman continued the conversation, no longer concealing the
interest that he felt in the beautiful woman who stood before
"Pardon me, "he said, "you are very young to be alone in war-time
in such a place as this."
The sudden outbreak of a disturbance in the kitchen relieved
Mercy from any immediate necessity for answering him. She heard
the voices of the wounded men raised in feeble remonstrance, and
the harsh command of the foreign officers bidding them be silent.
The generous instincts of the woman instantly prevailed over
every personal consideration imposed on her by the position which
she had assumed. Reckless whether she betrayed herself or not as
nurse in the French ambulance, she instantly drew aside the
canvas to enter the kitchen. A German sentinel barred the way to
her, and announced, in his own language, that no strangers were
admitted. The Englishman politely interposing, asked if she had
any special object in wishing to enter the room.
"The poor Frenchmen!" she said, earnestly, her heart upbraiding
her for having forgotten them. "The poor wounded Frenchmen!"
The German surgeon advanced from the bedside, and took the matter
up before the Englishman could say a word more.
"You have nothing to do with the wounded Frenchmen," he croaked,
in the harshest notes of his voice. "The wounded Frenchmen are my
business, and not yours. They are _our_ prisoners, and they are
being moved to _our_ ambulance. I am Ingatius Wetzel, chief of
the medical staff--and I tell you this. Hold your tongue." He
turned to the sentinel and added in German, "Draw the curtain
again; and if the woman persists, put her back into this room
with your own hand."
Mercy attempted to remonstrate. The Englishman respectfully took
her arm, and drew her out of the sentinel's reach.
"It is useless to resist," he said. "The German discipline never
gives way. There is not the least need to be uneasy about the
Frenchmen. The ambulance under Surgeon Wetzel is admirably
administered. I answer for it, the men will be well treated." He
saw the tears in her eyes as he spoke; his admiration for her
rose higher and higher. "Kind as well as beautiful, "he thought.
"What a charming creature!"
"Well!" said Ignatius Wetzel, eying Mercy sternly through his
spectacles. "Are you satisfied? And will you hold your tongue?"
She yielded: it was plainly useless to resist. But for the
surgeon's resistance, her devotion to the wounded men might have
stopped her on the downward way that she was going. If she could
only have been absorbed again, mind and body, in her good work as
a nurse, the temptation might even yet have found her strong
enough to resist it. The fatal severity of the German discipline
had snapped asunder the last tie that bound her to her better
self. Her face hardened as she walked away proudly from Surgeon
Wetzel, and took a chair.
The Englishman followed her, and reverted to the question of her
present situation in the cottage.
"Don't suppose that I want to alarm you," he said. "There is, I
repeat, no need to be anxious about the Frenchmen, but there is
serious reason for anxiety on your own account. The action will
be renewed round this village by daylight; you ought really to be
in a place of safety. I am an officer in the English army--my
name is Horace Holmcroft. I shall be delighted to be of use to
you, and I _can_ be of use, if you will let me. May I ask if you
Mercy gathered the cloak which concealed her nurse's dress more
closely round her, and committed herself silently to her first
overt act of deception. She bowed her head in the affirmative.
"Are you on your way to England?"
"In that case I can pass you through the German lines, and
forward you at once on your journey."
Mercy looked at him in unconcealed surprise. His strongly-felt
interest in her was restrained within the strictest limits of
good-breeding: he was unmistakably a gentleman. Did he really
mean what he had just said?
"You can pass me through the German lines?" she repeated. "You
must possess extraordinary influence, sir, to be able to do
Mr. Horace Holmcroft smiled.
"I possess the influence that no one can resist," he
answered--"the influence of the Press. I am serving here as war
correspondent of one of our great English newspapers. If I ask
him, the commanding officer will grant you a pass. He is close to
this cottage. What do you say?"
She summoned her resolution--not without difficulty, even
now--and took him at his word.
"I gratefully accept your offer, sir."
He advanced a step toward the kitchen, and stopped.
"It may be well to make the application as privately as
possible," he said. "I shall be questioned if I pass through that
room. Is there no other way out of the cottage?"
Mercy showed him the door leading into the yard. He bowed--and
She looked furtively toward the German surgeon. Ignatius Wetzel
was still at the bed, bending over the body, and apparently
absorbed in examining the wound which had been inflicted by the
shell. Mercy's instinctive aversion to the old man increased
tenfold, now that she was left alone with him. She withdrew
uneasily to the window, and looked out at the moonlight.
Had she committed herself to the fraud? Hardly, yet. She had
committed herself to returning to England--nothing more. There
was no necessity, thus far, which forced her to present herself
at Mablethorpe House, in Grace's place. There was still time to
reconsider her resolution--still time to write the account of the
accident, as she had proposed, and to send it with the
letter-case to Lady Janet Roy. Suppose she finally decided on
taking this course, what was to become of her when she found
herself in England again? There was no alternative open but to
apply once more to her friend the matron. There was nothing for
her to do but to return to the Refuge!
The Refuge! The matron! What past association with these two was
now presenting itself uninvited, and taking the foremost place in
her mind? Of whom was she now thinking, in that strange place,
and at that crisis in her life? Of the man whose words had found
their way to her heart, whose influence had strengthened and
comforted her, in the chapel of the Refuge. One of the finest
passages in his sermon had been especially devoted by Julian Gray
to warning the congregation whom he addressed against the
degrading influences of falsehood and deceit. The terms in which
he had appealed to the miserable women round him--terms of
sympathy and encouragement never addressed to them before--came
back to Mercy Merrick as if she had heard them an hour since. She
turned deadly pale as they now pleaded with her once more. "Oh!"
she whispered to herself, as she thought of what she had proposed
and planned, "what have I done? what have I done?"
She turned from the window with some vague idea in her mind of
following Mr. Holmcroft and calling him back. As she faced the
bed again she also confronted Ignatius Wetzel. He was just
stepping forward to speak to her, with a white handkerchief--the
handkerchief which she had lent to Grace--held up in his hand.
"I have found this in her pocket," he said. "Here is her name
written on it. She must be a countrywoman of yours." He read the
letters marked on the handkerchief with some difficulty. "Her
name is--Mercy Merrick."
_His_ lips had said it--not hers! _He_ had given her the name.
"'Mercy Merrick' is an English name?" pursued Ignatius Wetzel,
with his eyes steadily fixed on her. "Is it not so?"
The hold on her mind of the past association with Julian Gray
began to relax. One present and pressing question now possessed
itself of the foremost place in her thoughts. Should she correct
the error into which the German had fallen? The time had come--to
speak, and assert her own identity; or to be silent, and commit
herself to the fraud.
Horace Holmcroft entered the room again at the moment when
Surgeon Wetzel's staring eyes were still fastened on her, waiting
for her reply.
"I have not overrated my interest," he said, pointing to a little
slip of paper in his hand. "Here is the pass. Have you got pen
and ink? I must fill up the form."
Mercy pointed to the writing materials on the table. Horace
seated himself, and dipped the pen in the ink.
"Pray don't think that I wish to intrude myself into your
affairs," he said. "I am obliged to ask you one or two plain
questions. What is your name?"
A sudden trembling seized her. She supported herself against the
foot of the bed. Her whol e future existence depended on her
answer. She was incapable of uttering a word.
Ignatius Wetzel stood her friend for once. His croaking voice
filled the empty gap of silence exactly at the right time. He
doggedly held the handkerchief under her eyes. He obstinately
repeated: "Mercy Merrick is an English name. Is it not so?"
Horace Holmcroft looked up from the table. "Mercy Merrick?" he
said. "Who is Mercy Merrick?"
Surgeon Wetzel pointed to the corpse on the bed.
"I have found the name on the handkerchief, "he said. "This lady,
it seems, had not curiosity enough to look for the name of her
own countrywoman." He made that mocking allusion to Mercy with a
tone which was almost a tone of suspicion, and a look which was
almost a look of contempt. Her quick temper instantly resented
the discourtesy of which she had been made the object. The
irritation of the moment--so often do the most trifling motives
determine the most serious human actions--decided her on the
course that she should pursue. She turned her back scornfully on
the rude old man, and left him in the delusion that he had
discovered the dead woman's name.
Horace returned to the business of filling up the form. "Pardon
me for pressing the question," he said. "You know what German
discipline is by this time. What is your name?"
She answered him recklessly, defiantly, without fairly realizing
what she was doing until it was done.
"Grace Roseberry," she said.
The words were hardly out of her mouth before she would have
given everything she possessed in the world to recall them.
"Miss?" asked Horace, smiling.
She could only answer him by bowing her head.
He wrote: "Miss Grace Roseberry"--reflected for a moment--and
then added, interrogatively, "Returning to her friends in
England?" Her friends in England? Mercy's heart swelled: she
silently replied by another sign. He wrote the words after the
name, and shook the sandbox over the wet ink. "That will be
enough," he said, rising and presenting the pass to Mercy; "I
will see you through the lines myself, and arrange for your being
sent on by the railway. Where is your luggage?"
Mercy pointed toward the front door of the building. "In a shed
outside the cottage," she answered. "It is not much; I can do
everything for myself if the sentinel will let me pass through
Horace pointed to the paper in her hand. "You can go where you
like now," he said. "Shall I wait for you here or outside?"
Mercy glanced distrustfully at Ignatius Wetzel. He was again
absorbed in his endless examination of the body on the bed. If
she left him alone with Mr. Holmcroft, there was no knowing what
the hateful old man might not say of her. She answered:
"Wait for me outside, if you please."
The sentinel drew back with a military salute at the sight of the
pass. All the French prisoners had been removed; there were not
more than half-a-dozen Germans in the kitchen, and the greater
part of them were asleep. Mercy took Grace Roseberry's clothes
from the corner in which they had been left to dry, and made for
the shed--a rough structure of wood, built out from the cottage
wall. At the front door she encountered a second sentinel, and
showed her pass for the second time. She spoke to this man,
asking him if he understood French. He answered that he
understood a little. Mercy gave him a piece of money, and said:
"I am going to pack up my luggage in the shed. Be kind enough to
see that nobody disturbs me." The sentinel saluted, in token that
he understood. Mercy disappeared in the dark interior of the
Left alone with Surgeon Wetzel, Horace noticed the strange old
man still bending intently over the English lady who had been
killed by the shell.
"Anything remarkable," he asked, "in the manner of that poor
"Nothing to put in a newspaper," retorted the cynic, pursuing his
investigations as attentively as ever.
"Interesting to a doctor--eh?" said Horace.
"Yes. Interesting to a doctor," was the gruff reply.
Horace good-humoredly accepted the hint implied in those words.
He quitted the room by the door leading into the yard, and waited
for the charming Englishwoman, as he had been instructed, outside
Left by himself, Ignatius Wetzel, after a first cautious look all
round him, opened the upper part of Grace's dress, and laid his
left hand on her heart. Taking a little steel instrument from his
waistcoat pocket with the other hand, he applied it carefully to
the wound, raised a morsel of the broken and depressed bone of
the skull, and waited for the result. "Aha!" he cried, addressing
with a terrible gayety the senseless creature under his hands.
"The Frenchman says you are dead, my dear--does he? The Frenchman
is a Quack! The Frenchman is an Ass!" He lifted his head, and
called into the kitchen. "Max!" A sleepy young German, covered
with a dresser's apron from his chin to his feet, drew the
curtain, and waited for his instructions. "Bring me my black
bag," said Ignatius Wetzel. Having given that order, he rubbed
his hands cheerfully, and shook himself like a dog. "Now I am
quite happy," croaked the terrible old man, with his fierce eyes
leering sidelong at the bed. "My dear, dead Englishwoman, I would
not have missed this meeting with you for all the money I have in
the world. Ha! you infernal French Quack, you call it death, do
you? I call it suspended animation from pressure on the brain!"
Max appeared with the black bag.
Ignatius Wetzel selected two fearful instruments, bright and new,
and hugged them to his bosom. "My little boys," he said,
tenderly, as if they were his children; "my blessed little boys,
come to work!" He turned to the assistant. "Do you remember the
battle of Solferino, Max--and the Austrian soldier I operated on
for a wound on the head?"
The assistant's sleepy eyes opened wide; he was evidently
interested. "I remember," he said. "I held the candle."
The master led the way to the bed.
"I am not satisfied with the result of that operation at
Solferino," he said; "I have wanted to try again ever since. It's
true that I saved the man's life, but I failed to give him back
his reason along with it. It might have been something wrong in
the operation, or it might have been something wrong in the man.
Whichever it was, he will live and die mad. Now look here, my
little Max, at this dear young lady on the bed. She gives me just
what I wanted; here is the case at Solferino once more. You shall
hold the candle again, my good boy; stand there, and look with
all your eyes. I am going to try if I can save the life and the
reason too this time."
He tucked up the cuffs of his coat and began the operation. As
his fearful instruments touched Grace's head, the voice of the
sentinel at the nearest outpost was heard, giving the word in
German which permitted Mercy to take the first step on her
journey to England:
"Pass the English lady!"
The operation proceeded. The voice of the sentinel at the next
post was heard more faintly, in its turn: " Pass the English
The operation ended. Ignatius Wetzel held up his hand for silence
and put his ear close to the patient's mouth.
The first trembling breath of returning life fluttered over Grace
Roseberry's lips and touched the old man's wrinkled cheek. "Aha!"
he cried. "Good girl! you breathe--you live!" As he spoke, the
voice of the sentinel at the final limit of the German lines
(barely audible in the distance) gave the word for the last time:
"Pass the English lady!"
THE place is England.
The time is winter, in the year eighteen hundred and seventy.
The persons are, Julian Gray, Horace Holmcroft, Lady Janet Roy,
Grace Roseberry, and Mercy Merrick.
LADY JANET'S COMPANION.
IT is a glorious winter's day. The sky is clear, the frost is
hard, the ice bears for skating.
The dining-room of the ancient mansion called Mablethorpe House,
situated in the London suburb of Kensington, is famous among
artists and other persons of taste for the carved wood-work, of
Italian origin, which covers the walls on three sides. On the
fourth side the march of modern improvement has broken in, and
has va ried and brightened the scene by means of a conservatory,
forming an entrance to the room through a winter-garden of rare
plants and flowers. On your right hand, as you stand fronting the
conservatory, the monotony of the paneled wall is relieved by a
quaintly patterned door of old inlaid wood, leading into the
library, and thence, across the great hall, to the other
reception-rooms of the house. A corresponding door on the left
hand gives access to the billiard-room, to the smoking-room next
to it, and to a smaller hall commanding one of the secondary
entrances to the building. On the left side also is the ample
fireplace, surmounted by its marble mantelpiece, carved in the
profusely and confusedly ornate style of eighty years since. To
the educated eye the dining-room, with its modern furniture and
conservatory, its ancient walls and doors, and its lofty
mantelpiece (neither very old nor very new), presents a
startling, almost a revolutionary, mixture of the decorative
workmanship of widely differing schools. To the ignorant eye the
one result produced is an impression of perfect luxury and
comfort, united in the friendliest combination, and developed on
the largest scale.
The clock has just struck two. The table is spread for luncheon.
The persons seated at the table are three in number. First, Lady
Janet Roy. Second, a young lady who is her reader and companion.
Third, a guest staying in the house, who has already appeared in
these pages under the name of Horace Holmcroft--attached to the
German army as war correspondent of an English newspaper.
Lady Janet Roy needs but little introduction. Everybody with the
slightest pretension to experience in London society knows Lady
Who has not heard of her old lace and her priceless rubies? Who
has not admired her commanding figure, her beautifully dressed
white hair, her wonderful black eyes, which still preserve their
youthful brightness, after first opening on the world seventy
years since? Who has not felt the charm of her frank, easily
flowing talk, her inexhaustible spirits, her good-humored,
gracious sociability of manner? Where is the modern hermit who is
not familiarly acquainted, by hearsay at least, with the
fantastic novelty and humor of her opinions; with her generous
encouragement of rising merit of any sort, in all ranks, high or
low; with her charities, which know no distinction between abroad
and at home; with her large indulgence, which no ingratitude can
discourage, and no servility pervert? Everybody has heard of the
popular old lady--the childless widow of a long-forgotten lord.
Everybody knows Lady Janet Roy.
But who knows the handsome young woman sitting on her right hand,
playing with her luncheon instead of eating it? Nobody really
She is prettily dressed in gray poplin, trimmed with gray velvet,
and set off by a ribbon of deep red tied in a bow at the throat.
She is nearly as tall as Lady Janet herself, and possesses a
grace and beauty of figure not always seen in women who rise
above the medium height. Judging by a certain innate grandeur in
the carriage of her head and in the expression of her large
melancholy gray eyes, believers in blood and breeding will be apt
to guess that this is another noble lady. Alas! she is nothing
but Lady Janet's companion and reader. Her head, crowned with its
lovely light brown hair, bends with a gentle respect when Lady
Janet speaks. Her fine firm hand is easily and incessantly
watchful to supply Lady Janet's slightest wants. The old
lady--affectionately familiar with her--speaks to her as she
might speak to an adopted child. But the gratitude of the
beautiful companion has always the same restraint in its
acknowledgment of kindness; the smile of the beautiful companion
has always the same underlying sadness when it responds to Lady
Janet's hearty laugh. Is there something wrong here, under the
surface? Is she suffering in mind, or suffering in body? What is
the matter with her?
The matter with her is secret remorse. This delicate and
beautiful creature pines under the slow torment of constant
To the mistress of the house, and to all who inhabit it or enter
it, she is known as Grace Roseberry, the orphan relative by
marriage of Lady Janet Roy. To herself alone she is known as the
outcast of the London streets; the inmate of the London Refuge;
the lost woman who has stolen her way back--after vainly trying
to fight her way back--to Home and Name. There she sits in the
grim shadow of her own terrible secret, disguised in another
person's identity, and established in another person's place.
Mercy Merrick had only to dare, and to become Grace Roseberry if
she pleased. She has dared, and she has been Grace Roseberry for
nearly four months past.
At this moment, while Lady Janet is talking to Horace Holmcroft,
something that has passed between them has set her thinking of
the day when she took the first fatal step which committed her to
How marvelously easy of accomplishment the act of personation had
been! At first sight Lady Janet had yielded to the fascination of
the noble and interesting face. No need to present the stolen
letter; no need to repeat the ready-made story. The old lady had
put the letter aside unopened, and had stopped the story at the
first words. "Your face is your introduction, my dear; your
father can say nothing for you which you have not already said
for yourself." There was the welcome which established her firmly
in her false identity at the outset. Thanks to her own
experience, and thanks to the "Journal" of events at Rome,
questions about her life in Canada and questions about Colonel
Roseberry's illness found her ready with answers which (even if
suspicion had existed) would have disarmed suspicion on the spot.
While the true Grace was slowly and painfully winning her way
back to life on her bed in a German hospital, the false Grace was
presented to Lady Janet's friends as the relative by marriage of
the Mistress of Mablethorpe House. From that time forward nothing
had happened to rouse in her the faintest suspicion that Grace
Roseberry was other than a dead-and-buried woman. So far as she
now knew--so far as any one now knew--she might live out her life
in perfect security (if her conscience would let her), respected,
distinguished, and beloved, in the position which she had
She rose abruptly from the table. The effort of her life was to
shake herself free of the remembrances which haunted her
perpetually as they were haunting her now. Her memory was her
worst enemy; her one refuge from it was in change of occupation
and change of scene.
"May I go into the conservatory, Lady Janet?" she asked.
"Certainly, my dear."
She bent her head to her protectress, looked for a moment with a
steady, compassionate attention at Horace Holmcroft, and, slowly
crossing the room, entered the winter-garden. The eyes of Horace
followed her, as long as she was in view, with a curious
contradictory expression of admiration and disapproval. When she
had passed out of sight the admiration vanished, but the
disapproval remained. The face of the young man contracted into a
frown: he sat silent, with his fork in his hand, playing absently
with the fragments on his plate.
"Take some French pie, Horace," said Lady Janet.
"No, thank you."
"Some more chicken, then?"
"No more chicken."
"Will nothing tempt you?"
"I will take some more wine, if you will allow me."
He filled his glass (for the fifth or sixth time) with claret,
and emptied it sullenly at a draught. Lady Janet's bright eyes
watched him with sardonic attention; Lady Janet's ready tongue
spoke out as freely as usual what was passing in her mind at the
"The air of Kensington doesn't seem to suit you, my young
friend," she said. "The longer you have been my guest, the
oftener you fill your glass and empty your cigar-case. Those are
bad signs in a young man. When you first came here you arrived
invalided by a wound. In your place, I should not have exposed
myself to be shot, with no other object in view than describing a
battle in a newspaper. I suppose tastes differ. Are you ill? Does
your wound sti ll plague you?"
"Not in the least."
"Are you out of spirits?"
Horace Holmcroft dropped his fork, rested his elbows on the
table, and answered:
Even Lady Janet's large toleration had its limits. It embraced
every human offense except a breach of good manners. She snatched
up the nearest weapon of correction at hand--a tablespoon--and
rapped her young friend smartly with it on the arm that was
nearest to her.
"My table is not the club table," said the old lady. "Hold up
your head. Don't look at your fork--look at me. I allow nobody to
be out of spirits in My house. I consider it to be a reflection
on Me. If our quiet life here doesn't suit you, say so plainly,
and find something else to do. There is employment to be had, I
suppose--if you choose to apply for it? You needn't smile. I
don't want to see your teeth--I want an answer."
Horace admitted, with all needful gravity, that there was
employment to be had. The war between France and Germany, he
remarked, was still going on: the newspaper had offered to employ
him again in the capacity of correspondent.
"Don't speak of the newspapers and the war!" cried Lady Janet,
with a sudden explosion of anger, which was genuine anger this
time. "I detest the newspapers! I won't allow the newspapers to
enter this house. I lay the whole blame of the blood shed between
France and Germany at their door."
Horace's eyes opened wide in amazement. The old lady was
evidently in earnest. "What can you possibly mean?" he asked.
"Are the newspapers responsible for the war?"
"Entirely responsible, "answered Lady Janet. "Why, you don't
understand the age you live in! Does anybody do anything nowadays
(fighting included) without wishing to see it in the newspapers?
_I_ subscribe to a charity; _thou_ art presented with a
testimonial; _he_ preaches a sermon; _we_ suffer a grievance;
_you_ make a discovery; _they_ go to church and get married. And
I, thou, he; we, you, they, all want one and the same thing--we
want to see it in the papers. Are kings, soldiers, and
diplomatists exceptions to the general rule of humanity? Not
they! I tell you seriously, if the newspapers of Europe had one
and all decided not to take the smallest notice in print of the
war between France and Germany, it is my firm conviction the war
would have come to an end for want of encouragement long since.
Let the pen cease to advertise the sword, and I, for one, can see
the result. No report--no fighting."
"Your views have the merit of perfect novelty, ma'am," said
Horace. "Would you object to see them in the newspapers?"
Lady Janet worsted her young friend with his own weapons.
"Don't I live in the latter part of the nineteenth century?" she
asked. "In the newspapers, did you say? In large type, Horace, if
you love me!"
Horace changed the subject.
"You blame me for being out of spirits," he said; "and you seem
to think it is because I am tired of my pleasant life at
Mablethorpe House. I am not in the least tired, Lady Janet." He
looked toward the conservatory: the frown showed itself on his
face once more. "The truth is," he resumed, "I am not satisfied
with Grace Roseberry."
"What has Grace done?"
"She persists in prolonging our engagement. Nothing will persuade
her to fix the day for our marriage."
It was true! Mercy had been mad enough to listen to him, and to
love him. But Mercy was not vile enough to marry him under her
false character, and in her false name. Between three and four
months had elapsed since Horace had been sent home from the war,
wounded, and had found the beautiful Englishwoman whom he had
befriended in France established at Mablethorpe House. Invited to
become Lady Janet's guest (he had passed his holidays as a
school-boy under Lady Janet's roof)--free to spend the idle time
of his convalescence from morning to night in Mercy's
society--the impression originally produced on him in a French
cottage soon strengthened into love. Before the month was out
Horace had declared himself, and had discovered that he spoke to
willing ears. From that moment it was only a question of
persisting long enough in the resolution to gain his point. The
marriage engagement was ratified--most reluctantly on the lady's
side--and there the further progress of Horace Holmcroft's suit
came to an end. Try as he might, he failed to persuade his
betrothed wife to fix the day for the marriage. There were no
obstacles in her way. She had no near relations of her own to
consult. As a connection of Lady Janet's by marriage, Horace's
mother and sisters were ready to receive her with all the honors
due to a new member of the family. No pecuniary considerations
made it necessary, in this case, to wait for a favorable time.
Horace was an only son; and he had succeeded to his father's
estate with an ample income to support it. On both sides alike
there was absolutely nothing to prevent the two young people from
being married as soon as the settlements could be drawn. And yet,
to all appearance, here was a long engagement in prospect, with
no better reason than the lady's incomprehensible perversity to
explain the delay. "Can you account for Grace's conduct?" asked
Lady Janet. Her manner changed as she put the question. She
looked and spoke like a person who was perplexed and annoyed
"I hardly like to own it," Horace answered, "but I am afraid she
has some motive for deferring our marriage which she cannot
confide either to you or to me."
Lady Janet started.
"What makes you think that?" she asked.
"I have once or twice caught her in tears. Every now and
then--sometimes when she is talking quite gayly--she suddenly
changes color and becomes silent and depressed. Just now, when
she left the table (didn't you notice it?), she looked at me in
the strangest way--almost as if she was sorry for me. What do
these things mean?"
Horace's reply, instead of increasing Lady Janet's anxiety,
seemed to relieve it. He had observed nothing which she had not
noticed herself. "You foolish boy!" she said, "the meaning is
plain enough. Grace has been out of health for some time past.
The doctor recommends change of air. I shall take her away with
"It would be more to the purpose," Horace rejoined, "if I took
her away with me. She might consent, if you would only use your
influence. Is it asking too much to ask you to persuade her? My
mother and my sisters have written to her, and have produced no
effect. Do me the greatest of all kindnesses--speak to her
to-day!" He paused, and possessing himself of Lady Janet's hand,
pressed it entreatingly. "You have always been so good to me," he
said, softly, and pressed it again.
The old lady looked at him. It was impossible to dispute that
there were attractions in Horace Holmcroft's face which made it
well worth looking at. Many a woman might have envied him his
clear complexion, his bright blue eyes, and the warm amber tint
in his light Saxon hair. Men--especially men skilled in observing
physiognomy--might have noticed in the shape of his forehead and
in the line of his upper lip the signs indicative of a moral
nature deficient in largeness and breadth--of a mind easily
accessible to strong prejudices, and obstinate in maintaining
those prejudices in the face of conviction itself.