Part 3 out of 7
"And worse than an insult," Horace added, warmly, "to Grace!"
The little resolute black figure (still barring the way to the co
nservatory) was suddenly shaken from head to foot. The woman's
eyes traveled backward and forward between Lady Janet and Horace
with the light of a new suspicion in them.
"Grace!" she exclaimed. "What Grace? That's my name. Lady Janet,
you _have_ got the letter! The woman is here!"
Lady Janet dropped Horace's arm, and retraced her steps to the
place at which her nephew was standing.
"Julian, "she said. "You force me, for the first time in my life,
to remind you of the respect that is due to me in my own house.
Send that woman away."
Without waiting to be answered, she turned back again, and once
more took Horace's arm.
"Stand back, if you please," she said, quietly, to Grace.
Grace held her ground.
"The woman is here!" she repeated. "Confront me with her--and
then send me away, if you like."
Julian advanced, and firmly took her by the arm. "You forget what
is due to Lady Janet," he said, drawing her aside. "You forget
what is due to yourself."
With a desperate effort, Grace broke away from him, and stopped
Lady Janet on the threshold of the conservatory door.
"Justice!" she cried, shaking her clinched hand with hysterical
frenzy in the air. "I claim my right to meet that woman face to
face! Where is she? Confront me with her! Confront me with her!"
While those wild words were pouring from her lips, the rumbling
of carriage wheels became audible on the drive in front of the
house. In the all-absorbing agitation of the moment, the sound of
the wheels (followed by the opening of the house door) passed
unnoticed by the persons in the dining-room. Horace's voice was
still raised in angry protest against the insult offered to Lady
Janet; Lady Janet herself (leaving him for the second time) was
vehemently ringing the bell to summon the servants; Julian had
once more taken the infuriated woman by the arms and was trying
vainly to compose her--when the library door was opened quietly
by a young lady wearing a mantle and a bonnet. Mercy Merrick
(true to the appointment which she had made with Horace) entered
The first eyes that discovered her presence on the scene were the
eyes of Grace Roseberry. Starting violently in Julian's grasp,
she pointed toward the library door. "Ah!" she cried, with a
shriek of vindictive delight. "There she is!"
Mercy turned as the sound of the scream rang through the room,
and met--resting on her in savage triumph--the living gaze of the
woman whose identity she had stolen, whose body she had left laid
out for dead. On the instant of that terrible discovery--with her
eyes fixed helplessly on the fierce eyes that had found her--she
dropped senseless on the floor.
JULIAN happened to be standing nearest to Mercy. He was the first
at her side when she fell.
In the cry of alarm which burst from him, as he raised her for a
moment in his arms, in the expression of his eyes when he looked
at her death-like face, there escaped the plain--too
plain--confession of the interest which he felt in her, of the
admiration which she had aroused in him. Horace detected it.
There was the quick suspicion of jealousy in the movement by
which he joined Julian; there was the ready resentment of
jealousy in the tone in which he pronounced the words, "Leave her
to me." Julian resigned her in silence. A faint flush appeared on
his pale face as he drew back while Horace carried her to the
sofa. His eyes sunk to the ground; he seemed to be meditating
self-reproachfully on the tone in which his friend had spoken to
him. After having been the first to take an active part in
meeting the calamity that had happened, he was now, to all
appearance, insensible to everything that was passing in the
A touch on his shoulder roused him.
He turned and looked round. The woman who had done the
mischief--the stranger in the poor black garments--was standing
behind him. She pointed to the prostrate figure on the sofa, with
a merciless smile.
"You wanted a proof just now," she said. "There it is!"
Horace heard her. He suddenly left the sofa and joined Julian.
His face, naturally ruddy, was pale with suppressed fury.
"Take that wretch away!" he said. "Instantly! or I won't answer
for what I may do."
Those words recalled Julian to himself. He looked round the room.
Lady Janet and the housekeeper were together, in attendance on
the swooning woman. The startled servants were congregated in the
library doorway. One of them offered to run to the nearest
doctor; another asked if he should fetch the police. Julian
silenced them by a gesture, and turned to Horace. "Compose
yourself," he said. "Leave me to remove her quietly from the
house." He took Grace by the hand as he spoke. She hesitated, and
tried to release herself. Julian pointed to the group at the
sofa, and to the servants looking on. "You have made an enemy of
every one in this room," he said, "and you have not a friend in
London. Do you wish to make an enemy of _me?_ Her head drooped;
she made no reply; she waited, dumbly obedient to the firmer will
than her own. Julian ordered the servants crowding together in
the doorway to withdraw. He followed them into the library,
leading Grace after him by the hand. Before closing the door he
paused, and looked back into the dining-room.
"Is she recovering?" he asked, after a moment's hesitation.
Lady Janet's voice answered him. "Not yet."
"Shall I send for the nearest doctor?"
Horace interposed. He declined to let Julian associate himself,
even in that indirect manner, with Mercy's recovery.
"If the doctor is wanted," he said, "I will go for him myself."
Julian closed the library door. He absently released Grace; he
mechanically pointed to a chair. She sat down in silent surprise,
following him with her eyes as he walked slowly to and fro in the
For the moment his mind was far away from her, and from all that
had happened since her appearance in the house. It was impossible
that a man of his fineness of perception could mistake the
meaning of Horace's conduct toward him. He was questioning his
own heart, on the subject of Mercy, sternly and unreservedly as
it was his habit to do. "After only once seeing her," he thought,
"has she produced such an impression on me that Horace can
discover it, before I have even suspected it myself? Can the time
have come already when I owe it to my friend to see her no more?"
He stopped irritably in his walk. As a man devoted to a serious
calling in life, there was something that wounded his
self-respect in the bare suspicion that he could be guilty of the
purely sentimental extravagance called "love at first sight."
He had paused exactly opposite to the chair in which Grace was
seated. Weary of the silence, she seized the opportunity of
speaking to him.
"I have come here with you as you wished," she said. "Are you
going to help me? Am I to count on you as my friend?"
He looked at her vacantly. It cost him an effort before he could
give her the attention that she had claimed.
"You have been hard on me," Grace went on. "But you showed me
some kindness at first; you tried to make them give me a fair
hearing. I ask you, as a just man, do you doubt now that the
woman on the sofa in the next room is an impostor who has taken
my place? Can there be any plainer confession that she is Mercy
Merrick than the confession she has made? _You_ saw it; _they_
saw it. She fainted at the sight of me."
Julian crossed the room--still without answering her--and rang
the bell. When the servant appeared, he told the man to fetch a
Grace rose from her chair. "What is the cab for?" she asked,
"For you and for me," Julian replied. "I am going to take you
back to your lodgings."
"I refuse to go. My place is in this house. Neither Lady Janet
nor you can get over the plain facts. All I asked was to be
confronted with her. And what did she do when she came into the
room? She fainted at the sight of me."
Reiterating her one triumphant assertion, she fixed her eyes on
Julian with a look which said plainly: Answer that if you can. In
mercy to her, Julian answered it on the spot.
"As far as I understand," he said, "you appear to take it for
granted that no innocent woma n would have fainted on first
seeing you. I have something to tell you which will alter your
opinion. On her arrival in England this lady informed my aunt
that she had met with you accidentally on the French frontier,
and that she had seen you (so far as she knew) struck dead at her
side by a shell. Remember that, and recall what happened just
now. Without a word to warn her of your restoration to life, she
finds herself suddenly face to face with you, a living woman--and
this at a time when it is easy for any one who looks at her to
see that she is in delicate health. What is there wonderful, what
is there unaccountable, in her fainting under such circumstances
The question was plainly put. Where was the answer to it?
There was no answer to it. Mercy's wisely candid statement of the
manner in which she had first met with Grace, and of the accident
which had followed had served Mercy's purpose but too well. It
was simply impossible for persons acquainted with that statement
to attach a guilty meaning to the swoon. The false Grace
Roseberry was still as far beyond the reach of suspicion as ever,
and the true Grace was quick enough to see it. She sank into the
chair from which she had risen; her hands fell in hopeless
despair on her lap.
"Everything is against me," she said. "The truth itself turns
liar, and takes _her_ side." She paused, and rallied her sinking
courage. "No!" she cried, resolutely, "I won't submit to have my
name and my place taken from me by a vile adventuress! Say what
you like, I insist on exposing her; I won't leave the house!"
The servant entered the room, and announced that the cab was at
Grace turned to Julian with a defiant wave of her hand. "Don't
let me detain you," she said. "I see I have neither advice nor
help to expect from Mr. Julian Gray."
Julian beckoned to the servant to follow him into a corner of the
"Do you know if the doctor has been sent for?" he asked.
"I believe not, sir. It is said in the servants' hall that the
doctor is not wanted."
Julian was too anxious to be satisfied with a report from the
servants' hall. He hastily wrote on a slip of paper: "Has she
recovered?" and gave the note to the man, with directions to take
it to Lady Janet.
"Did you hear what I said?" Grace inquired, while the messenger
was absent in the dining room.
"I will answer you directly," said Julian.
The servant appeared again as he spoke, with some lines in pencil
written by Lady Janet on the back of Julian's note. "Thank God,
we have revived her. In a few minutes we hope to be able to take
her to her room."
The nearest way to Mercy's room was through the library. Grace's
immediate removal had now become a necessity which was not to be
trifled with. Julian addressed himself to meeting the difficulty
the instant he was left alone with Grace.
"Listen to me," he said. "The cab is waiting, and I have my last
words to say to you. You are now (thanks to the consul's
recommendation) in my care. Decide at once whether you will
remain under my charge, or whether you will transfer yourself to
the charge of the police."
Grace started. "What do you mean?" she asked, angrily.
"If you wish to remain under my charge," Julian proceeded, "you
will accompany me at once to the cab. In that case I will
undertake to give you an opportunity of telling your story to my
own lawyer. He will be a fitter person to advise you than I am.
Nothing will induce we to believe that the lady whom you have
accused has committed, or is capable of committing, such a fraud
as you charge her with. You will hear what the lawyer thinks, if
you come with me. If you refuse, I shall have no choice but to
send into the next room, and tell them that you are still here.
The result will be that you will find yourself in charge of the
police. Take which course you like: I will give you a minute to
decide in. And remember this--if I appear to express myself
harshly, it is your conduct which forces me to speak out. I mean
kindly toward you; I am advising you honestly for your good."
He took out his watch to count the minute.
Grace stole one furtive glance at his steady, resolute face. She
was perfectly unmoved by the manly consideration for her which
Julian's last words had expressed. All she understood was that he
was not a man to be trifled with. Future opportunities would
offer themselves of returning secretly to the house. She
determined to yield--and deceive him.
"I am ready to go," she said, rising with dogged submission.
"Your turn now," she muttered to herself, as she turned to the
looking-glass to arrange her shawl. "My turn will come."
Julian advanced toward her, as if to offer her his arm, and
checked himself. Firmly persuaded as he was that her mind was
deranged--readily as he admitted that she claimed, in virtue of
her affliction, every indulgence that he could extend to
her--there was something repellent to him at that moment in the
bare idea of touching her. The image of the beautiful creature
who was the object of her monstrous accusation--the image of
Mercy as she lay helpless for a moment in his arms--was vivid in
his mind while he opened the door that led into the hall, and
drew back to let Grace pass out before him. He left the servant
to help her into the cab. The man respectfully addressed him as
he took his seat opposite to Grace.
"I am ordered to say that your room is ready, sir, and that her
ladyship expects you to dinner."
Absorbed in the events which had followed his aunt's invitation,
Julian had forgotten his engagement to stay at Mablethorpe House.
Could he return, knowing his own heart as he now knew it? Could
he honorably remain, perhaps for weeks together, in Mercy's
society, conscious as he now was of the impression which she had
produced on him? No. The one honorable course that he could take
was to find an excuse for withdrawing from his engagement. "Beg
her ladyship not to wait dinner for me," he said. "I will write
and make my apologies." The cab drove off. The wondering servant
waited on the doorstep, looking after it. "I wouldn't stand in
Mr. Julian's shoes for something," he thought, with his mind
running on the difficulties of the young clergyman's position.
"There she is along with him in the cab. What is he going to do
with her after that?"
Julian himself, if it had been put to him at the moment, could
not have answered the question.
Lady Janet's anxiety was far from being relieved when Mercy had
been restored to her senses and conducted to her own room.
Mercy's mind remained in a condition of unreasoning alarm, which
it was impossible to remove. Over and over again she was told
that the woman who had terrified her had left the house, and
would never be permitted to enter it more; over and over again
she was assured that the stranger's frantic assertions were
regarded by everybody about her as unworthy of a moment's serious
attention. She persisted in doubting whether they were telling
her the truth. A shocking distrust of her friends seemed to
possess her. She shrunk when Lady Janet approached the bedside.
She shuddered when Lady Janet kissed her. She flatly refused to
let Horace see her. She asked the strangest questions about
Julian Gray, and shook her head suspiciously when they told her
that he was absent from the house. At intervals she hid her face
in the bedclothes and murmured to herself piteously, "Oh, what
shall I do? What shall I do?" At other times her one petition was
to be left alone. "I want nobody in my room"--that was her sullen
cry--"nobody in my room."
The evening advanced, and brought with it no change for the
better. Lady Janet, by the advice of Horace, sent for her own
The doctor shook his head. The symptoms, he said, indicated a
serious shock to the nervous system. He wrote a sedative
prescription; and he gave (with a happy choice of language) some
sound and safe advice. It amounted briefly to this: "Take her
away, and try the sea-side." Lady Janet's customary energy acted
on the advice, without a moment's needless delay. She gave the
necessary directions for packing the trunks overnight, and
decided on leaving Mablethorpe Hous e with Mercy the next
Shortly after the doctor had taken his departure a letter from
Julian, addressed to Lady Janet, was delivered by private
Beginning with the necessary apologies for the writer's absence,
the letter proceeded in these terms:
"Before I permitted my companion to see the lawyer, I felt the
necessity of consulting him as to my present position toward her
"I told him--what I think it only right to repeat to you--that I
do not feel justified in acting on my own opinion that her mind
is deranged. In the case of this friendless woman I want medical
authority, and, more even than that, I want some positive proof,
to satisfy my conscience as well as to confirm my view.
"Finding me obstinate on this point, the lawyer undertook to
consult a physician accustomed to the treatment of the insane, on
"After sending a message and receiving the answer, he said,
'Bring the lady here--in half an hour; she shall tell her story
to the doctor instead of telling it to me.' The proposal rather
staggered me; I asked how it was possible to induce her to do
that. He laughed, and answered, 'I shall present the doctor as my
senior partner; my senior partner will be the very man to advise
her.' You know that I hate all deception, even where the end in
view appears to justify it. On this occasion, however, there was
no other alternative than to let the lawyer take his own course,
or to run the risk of a delay which might be followed by serious
"I waited in a room by myself (feeling very uneasy, I own) until
the doctor joined me, after the interview was over.
"His opinion is, briefly, this:
"After careful examination of the unfortunate creature, he thinks
that there are unmistakably symptoms of mental aberration. But
how far the mischief has gone, and whether her case is, or is
not, sufficiently grave to render actual restraint necessary, he
cannot positively say, in our present state of ignorance as to
"'Thus far,' he observed, 'we know nothing of that part of her
delusion which relates to Mercy Merrick. The solution of the
difficulty, in this case, is to be found there. I entirely agree
with the lady that the inquiries of the consul at Mannheim are
far from being conclusive. Furnish me with satisfactory evidence
either that there is, or is not, such a person really in
existence as Mercy Merrick, and I will give you a positive
opinion on the case whenever you choose to ask for it.'
"Those words have decided me on starting for the Continent and
renewing the search for Mercy Merrick.
"My friend the lawyer wonders jocosely whether _I_ am in my right
senses. His advice is that I should apply to the nearest
magistrate, and relieve you and myself of all further trouble in
"Perhaps you agree with him? My dear aunt (as you have often
said), I do nothing like other people. I am interested in this
case. I cannot abandon a forlorn woman who has been confided to
me to the tender mercies of strangers, so long as there is any
hope of my making discoveries which may be instrumental in
restoring her to herself--perhaps, also, in restoring her to her
"I start by the mail-train of to-night. My plan is to go first to
Mannheim and consult with the consul and the hospital doctors;
then to find my way to the German surgeon and to question _him_;
and, that done, to make the last and hardest effort of all--the
effort to trace the French ambulance and to penetrate the mystery
of Mercy Merrick.
"Immediately on my return I will wait on you, and tell you what I
have accomplished, or how I have failed.
"In the meanwhile, pray be under no alarm about the reappearance
of this unhappy woman at your house. She is fully occupied in
writing (at my suggestion) to her friends in Canada; and she is
under the care of the landlady at her lodgings--an experienced
and trustworthy person, who has satisfied the doctor as well as
myself of her fitness for the charge that she has undertaken.
"Pray mention this to Miss Roseberry (whenever you think it
desirable), with the respectful expression of my sympathy, and of
my best wishes for her speedy restoration to health. And once
more forgive me for failing, under stress of necessity, to enjoy
the hospitality of Mablethorpe House."
Lady Janet closed Julian's letter, feeling far from satisfied
with it. She sat for a while, pondering over what her nephew had
written to her.
"One of two things," thought the quick-witted old lady. "Either
the lawyer is right, and Julian is a fit companion for the
madwoman whom he has taken under his charge, or he has some
second motive for this absurd journey of his which he has
carefully abstained from mentioning in his letter. What can the
At intervals during the night that question recurred to her
ladyship again and again. The utmost exercise of her ingenuity
failing to answer it, her one resource left was to wait patiently
for Julian's return, and, in her own favorite phrase, to "have it
out of him" then.
The next morning Lady Janet and her adopted daughter left
Mablethorpe House for Brighton; Horace (who had begged to be
allowed to accompany them) being sentenced to remain in London by
Mercy's express desire. Why--nobody could guess; and Mercy
refused to say.
A WEEK has passed. The scene opens again in the dining-room at
The hospitable table bears once more its burden of good things
for lunch. But on this occasion Lady Janet sits alone. Her
attention is divided between reading her newspaper and feeding
her cat. The cat is a sleek and splendid creature. He carries an
erect tail. He rolls luxuriously on the soft carpet. He
approaches his mistress in a series of coquettish curves. He
smells with dainty hesitation at the choicest morsels that can be
offered to him. The musical monotony of his purring falls
soothingly on her ladyship's ear. She stops in the middle of a
leading article and looks with a careworn face at the happy cat.
"Upon my honor," cries Lady Janet, thinking, in her inveterately
ironical manner, of the cares that trouble her, "all things
considered, Tom, I wish I was You!"
The cat starts--not at his mistress's complimentary apostrophe,
but at a knock at the door, which follows close upon it. Lady
Janet says, carelessly enough, "Come in;" looks round listlessly
to see who it is; and starts, like the cat, when the door opens
and discloses--Julian Gray!
"You--or your ghost?" she exclaims.
She has noticed already that Julian is paler than usual, and that
there is something in his manner at once uneasy and
subdued--highly uncharacteristic of him at other times. He takes
a seat by her side, and kisses her hand. But--for the first time
in his aunt's experience of him--he refuses the good things on
the luncheon table, and he has nothing to say to the cat! That
neglected animal takes refuge on Lady Janet's lap. Lady Janet,
with her eyes fixed expectantly on her nephew (determining to
"have it out of him" at the first opportunity), waits to hear
what he has to say for himself. Julian has no alternative but to
break the silence, and tell his story as he best may.
"I got back from the Continent last night," he began. "And I come
here, as I promised, to report myself on my return. How does your
ladyship do? How is Miss Roseberry?"
Lady Janet laid an indicative finger on the lace pelerine which
ornamented the upper part of her dress. "Here is the old lady,
well," she answered--and pointed next to the room above them.
"And there," she added, "is the young lady, ill. Is anything the
matter with _you_, Julian?"
"Perhaps I am a little tired after my journey. Never mind me. Is
Miss Roseberry still suffering from the shock?"
"What else should she be suffering from? I will never forgive
you, Julian, for bringing that crazy impostor into my house."
"My dear aunt, when I was the innocent means of bringing her here
I had no idea that such a person as Miss Roseberry was in
existence. Nobody laments what has happened more sincerely than I
do. Have you had medical advice?"
"I took her to the sea-side a week since by medical advice."
"Has the change of air don e her no good?"
"None whatever. If anything, the change of air has made her
worse. Sometimes she sits for hours together, as pale as death,
without looking at anything, and without uttering a word.
Sometimes she brightens up, and seems as if she was eager to say
something; and then Heaven only knows why, checks herself
suddenly as if she was afraid to speak. I could support that. But
what cuts me to the heart, Julian, is, that she does not appear
to trust me and to love me as she did. She seems to be doubtful
of me; she seems to be frightened of me. If I did not know that
it was simply impossible that such a thing could be, I should
really think she suspected me of believing what that wretch said
of her. In one word (and between ourselves), I begin to fear she
will never get over the fright which caused that fainting-fit.
There is serious mischief somewhere; and, try as I may to
discover it, it is mischief beyond my finding."
"Can the doctor do nothing?"
Lady Janet's bright black eyes answered before she replied in
words, with a look of supreme contempt.
"The doctor!" she repeated, disdainfully. "I brought Grace back
last night in sheer despair, and I sent for the doctor this
morning. He is at the head of his profession; he is said to be
making ten thousand a year; and he knows no more about it than I
do. I am quite serious. The great physician has just gone away
with two guineas in his pocket. One guinea, for advising me to
keep her quiet; another guinea for telling me to trust to time.
Do you wonder how he gets on at this rate? My dear boy, they all
get on in the same way. The medical profession thrives on two
incurable diseases in these modern days--a He-disease and a
She-disease. She-disease--nervous depression;
He-disease--suppressed gout. Remedies, one guinea, if _you_ go to
the doctor; two guineas if the doctor goes to _you_. I might have
bought a new bonnet," cried her ladyship, indignantly, "with the
money I have given to that man! Let us change the subject. I lose
my temper when I think of it. Besides, I want to know something.
Why did you go abroad?"
At that plain question Julian looked unaffectedly surprised. "I
wrote to explain," he said. "Have you not received my letter?"
"Oh, I got your letter. It was long enough, in all conscience;
and, long as it was, it didn't tell me the one thing I wanted to
"What is the 'one thing'?"
Lady Janet's reply pointed--not too palpably at first--at that
second motive for Julian's journey which she had suspected Julian
of concealing from her.
"I want to know," she said, "why you troubled yourself to make
your inquiries on the Continent _in person?_ You know where my
old courier is to be found. You have yourself pronounced him to
be the most intelligent and trustworthy of men. Answer me
honestly--could you not have sent him in your place?"
"I _might_ have sent him," Julian admitted, a little reluctantly.
"You might have sent the courier--and you were under an
engagement to stay here as my guest. Answer me honestly once
more. Why did you go away?"
Julian hesitated. Lady Janet paused for his reply, with the air
of a women who was prepared to wait (if necessary) for the rest
of the afternoon.
"I had a reason of my own for going," Julian said at last.
"Yes?" rejoined Lady Janet, prepared to wait (if necessary) till
the next morning.
"A reason," Julian resumed, "which I would rather not mention."
"Oh!" said Lady Janet. "Another mystery--eh? And another woman at
the bottom of it, no doubt. Thank you--that will do--I am
sufficiently answered. No wonder, as a clergyman, that you look a
little confused. There is, perhaps, a certain grace, under the
circumstances, in looking confused. We will change the subject
again. You stay here, of course, now you have come back?"
Once more the famous pulpit orator seemed to find himself in the
inconceivable predicament of not knowing what to say. Once more
Lady Janet looked resigned to wait (if necessary) until the
middle of next week.
Julian took refuge in an answer worthy of the most commonplace
man on the face of the civilized earth.
"I beg your ladyship to accept my thanks and my excuses," he
Lady Janet's many-ringed fingers, mechanically stroking the cat
in her lap, began to stroke him the wrong way.
Lady Janet's inexhaustible patience showed signs of failing her
"Mighty civil, I am sure," she said. "Make it complete. Say, Mr.
Julian Gray presents his compliments to Lady Janet Roy, and
regrets that a previous engagement-- Julian!" exclaimed the old
lady, suddenly pushing the cat off her lap, and flinging her last
pretense of good temper to the winds--"Julian, I am not to be
trifled with! There is but one explanation of your conduct--you
are evidently avoiding my house. Is there somebody you dislike in
it? Is it me?"
Julian intimated by a gesture that his aunt's last question was
absurd. (The much-injured cat elevated his back, waved his tail
slowly, walked to the fireplace, and honored the rug by taking a
seat on it.)
Lady Janet persisted. "Is it Grace Roseberry?" she asked next.
Even Julian's patience began to show signs of yielding. His
manner assumed a sudden decision, his voice rose a tone louder.
"You insist on knowing?" he said. "It _is_ Miss Roseberry."
"You don't like her?" cried Lady Janet, with a sudden burst of
Julian broke out, on his side: "If I see any more of her," he
answered, the rare color mounting passionately in his cheeks, "I
shall be the unhappiest man living. If I see any more of her, I
shall be false to my old friend, who is to marry her. Keep us
apart. If you have any regard for my peace of mind, keep us
Unutterable amazement expressed itself in his aunt's lifted
hands. Ungovernable curiosity uttered itself in his aunt's next
"You don't mean to tell me you are in love with Grace?"
Julian sprung restlessly to his feet, and disturbed the cat at
the fireplace. (The cat left the room.)
"I don't know what to tell you," he said; "I can't realize it to
myself. No other woman has ever roused the feeling in me which
this woman seems to have called to life in an instant. In the
hope of forgetting her I broke my engagement here; I purposely
seized the opportunity of making those inquiries abroad. Quite
useless. I think of her, morning, noon, and night. I see her and
hear her, at this moment, as plainly as I see and hear you. She
has made _her_self a part of _my_self. I don't understand my life
without her. My power of will seems to be gone. I said to myself
this morning, 'I will write to my aunt; I won't go back to
Mablethorpe House.' Here I am in Mablethorpe House, with a mean
subterfuge to justify me to my own conscience. 'I owe it to my
aunt to call on my aunt.' That is what I said to myself on the
way here; and I was secretly hoping every step of the way that
she would come into the room when I got here. I am hoping it now.
And she is engaged to Horace Holmcroft--to my oldest friend, to
my best friend! Am I an infernal rascal? or am I a weak fool? God
knows--I don't. Keep my secret, aunt. I am heartily ashamed of
myself; I used to think I was made of better stuff than this.
Don't say a word to Horace. I must, and will, conquer it. Let me
He snatched up his hat. Lady Janet, rising with the activity of a
young woman, pursued him across the room, and stopped him at the
"No," answered the resolute old lady, "I won't let you go. Come
back with me."
As she said those words she noticed with a certain fond pride the
brilliant color mounting in his cheeks--the flashing brightness
which lent an added luster to his eyes. He had never, to her
mind, looked so handsome before. She took his arm, and led him to
the chairs which they had just left. It was shocking, it was
wrong (she mentally admitted) to look on Mercy, under the
circumstances, with any other eye than the eye of a brother or a
friend. In a clergyman (perhaps) doubly shocking, doubly wrong.
But, with all her respect for the vested interests of Horace,
Lady Janet could not blame Julian. Worse still, she was privately
conscious that he had, somehow or other, risen, rather than
fallen, in her estima tion within the last minute or two. Who
could deny that her adopted daughter was a charming creature? Who
could wonder if a man of refined tastes admired her? Upon the
whole, her ladyship humanely decided that her nephew was rather
to be pitied than blamed. What daughter of Eve (no matter whether
she was seventeen or seventy) could have honestly arrived at any
other conclusion? Do what a man may--let him commit anything he
likes, from an error to a crime--so long as there is a woman at
the bottom of it, there is an inexhaustible fund of pardon for
him in every other woman's heart. "Sit down," said Lady Janet,
smiling in spite of herself; "and don't talk in that horrible way
again. A man, Julian--especially a famous man like you--ought to
know how to control himself."
Julian burst out laughing bitterly.
"Send upstairs for my self-control," he said. "It's in _her_
possession--not in mine. Good morning, aunt."
He rose from his chair. Lady Janet instantly pushed him back into
"I insist on your staying here," she said, "if it is only for a
few minutes longer. I have something to say to you."
"Does it refer to Miss Roseberry?"
"It refers to the hateful woman who frightened Miss Roseberry.
Now are you satisfied?"
Julian bowed, and settled himself in his chair.
"I don't much like to acknowledge it," his aunt went on. "But I
want you to understand that I have something really serious to
speak about, for once in a way. Julian! that wretch not only
frightens Grace--she actually frightens me."
"Frightens you? She is quite harmless, poor thing."
"'Poor thing'!" repeated Lady Janet. "Did you say 'poor thing'?"
"Is it possible that you pity her?"
"From the bottom of my heart."
The old lady's temper gave way again at that reply. "I hate a man
who can't hate anybody!" she burst out. "If you had been an
ancient Roman, Julian, I believe you would have pitied Nero
Julian cordially agreed with her. "I believe I should," he said,
quietly. "All sinners, my dear aunt, are more or less miserable
sinners. Nero must have been one of the wretchedest of mankind."
"Wretched!" exclaimed Lady Janet. "Nero wretched! A man who
committed robbery, arson and murder to his own violin
accompaniment--_only_ wretched! What next, I wonder? When modern
philanthropy begins to apologize for Nero, modern philanthropy
has arrived at a pretty pass indeed! We shall hear next that
Bloody Queen Mary was as playful as a kitten; and if poor dear
Henry the Eighth carried anything to an extreme, it was the
practice of the domestic virtues. Ah, how I hate cant! What were
we talking about just now? You wander from the subject, Julian;
you are what I call bird-witted. I protest I forget what I wanted
to say to you. No, I won't be reminded of it. I may be an old
woman, but I am not in my dotage yet! Why do you sit there
staring? Have you nothing to say for yourself? Of all the people
in the world, have _you_ lost the use of your tongue?"
Julian's excellent temper and accurate knowledge of his aunt's
character exactly fitted him to calm the rising storm. He
contrived to lead Lady Janet insensibly back to the lost subject
by dexterous reference to a narrative which he had thus far left
untold--the narrative of his adventures on the Continent.
"I have a great deal to say, aunt," he replied. "I have not yet
told you of my discoveries abroad."
Lady Janet instantly took the bait.
"I knew there was something forgotten," she said. "You have been
all this time in the house, and you have told me nothing. Begin
Patient Julian began.
COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR SHADOWS BEFORE.
"I WENT first to Mannheim, Lady Janet, as I told you I should in
my letter, and I heard all that the consul and the hospital
doctors could tell me. No new fact of the slightest importance
turned up. I got my directions for finding the German surgeon,
and I set forth to try what I could make next of the man who
performed the operation. On the question of his patient's
identity he had (as a perfect stranger to her) nothing to tell
me. On the question of her mental condition, however, he made a
very important statement. He owned to me that he had operated on
another person injured by a shell-wound on the head at the battle
of Solferino, and that the patient (recovering also in this case)
recovered--mad. That is a remarkable admission; don't you think
Lady Janet's temper had hardly been allowed time enough to
subside to its customary level.
"Very remarkable, I dare say," she answered, "to people who feel
any doubt of this pitiable lady of yours being mad. I feel no
doubt--and, thus far, I find your account of yourself, Julian,
tiresome in the extreme. Go on to the end. Did you lay your hand
on Mercy Merrick?"
"Did you hear anything of her?"
"Nothing. Difficulties beset me on every side. The French
ambulance had shared in the disasters of France--it was broken
up. The wounded Frenchmen were prisoners somewhere in Germany,
nobody knew where. The French surgeon had been killed in action.
His assistants were scattered--most likely in hiding. I began to
despair of making any discovery, when accident threw in my way
two Prussian soldiers who had been in the French cottage. They
confirmed what the German surgeon told the consul, and what
Horace himself told _me_--namely, that no nurse in a black dress
was to be seen in the place. If there had been such a person, she
would certainly (the Prussians inform me) have been found in
attendance on the injured Frenchmen. The cross of the Geneva
Convention would have been amply sufficient to protect her: no
woman wearing that badge of honor would have disgraced herself by
abandoning the wounded men before the Germans entered the place."
"In short, "interposed Lady Janet, "there is no such person as
"I can draw no other conclusion, "said Julian, "unless the
English doctor's idea is the right one. After hearing what I have
just told you, he thinks the woman herself is Mercy Merrick."
Lady Janet held up her hand as a sign that she had an objection
to make here.
"You and the doctor seem to have settled everything to your
entire satisfaction on both sides," she said. "But there is one
difficulty that you have neither of you accounted for yet."
"What is it, aunt?"
"You talk glibly enough, Julian, about this woman's mad assertion
that Grace is the missing nurse, and that she is Grace. But you
have not explained yet how the idea first got into her head; and,
more than that, how it is that she is acquainted with my name and
address, and perfectly familiar with Grace's papers and Grace's
affairs. These things are a puzzle to a person of my average
intelligence. Can your clever friend, the doctor, account for
"Shall I tell you what he said when I saw him this morning?"
"Will it take long?"
"It will take about a minute."
"You agreeably surprise me. Go on."
"You want to know how she gained her knowledge of your name and
of Miss Roseberry's affairs," Julian resumed. "The doctor says in
one of two ways. Either Miss Roseberry must have spoken of you
and of her own affairs while she and the stranger were together
in the French cottage, or the stranger must have obtained access
privately to Miss Roseberry's papers. Do you agree so far?"
Lady Janet began to feel interested for the first time.
"Perfectly," she said. "I have no doubt Grace rashly talked of
matters which an older and wiser person would have kept to
"Very good. Do you also agree that the last idea in the woman's
mind when she was struck by the shell might have been (quite
probably) the idea of Miss Roseberry's identity and Miss
Roseberry's affairs? You think it likely enough? Well, what
happens after that? The wounded woman is brought to life by an
operation, and she becomes delirious in the hospital at Mannheim.
During her delirium the idea of Miss Roseberry's identity
ferments in her brain, and assumes its present perverted form. In
that form it still remains. As a necessary consequence, she
persists in reversing the two identities. She says she is Miss
Roseberry, and declares Miss Roseberry to be Mercy Merrick. There
is the doctor 's explanation. What do you think of it?"
"Very ingenious, I dare say. The doctor doesn't quite satisfy me,
however, for all that. I think--"
What Lady Janet thought was not destined to be expressed. She
suddenly checked herself, and held up her hand for the second
"Another objection?" inquired Julian.
"Hold your tongue!" cried the old lady. "If you say a word more I
shall lose it again."
"Lose what, aunt?"
"What I wanted to say to you ages ago. I have got it back
again--it begins with a question. (No more of the doctor--I have
had enough of him!) Where is she--_your_ pitiable lady, _my_
crazy wretch--where is she now? Still in London?"
"And still at large?"
"Still with the landlady, at her lodgings."
"Very well. Now answer me this! What is to prevent her from
making another attempt to force her way (or steal her way) into
my house? How am I to protect Grace, how am I to protect myself,
if she comes here again?"
"Is that really what you wished to speak to me about?"
"That, and nothing else."
They were both too deeply interested in the subject of their
conversation to look toward the conservatory, and to notice the
appearance at that moment of a distant gentleman among the plants
and flowers, who had made his way in from the garden outside.
Advancing noiselessly on the soft Indian matting, the gentleman
ere long revealed himself under the form and features of Horace
Holmcroft. Before entering the dining-room he paused, fixing his
eyes inquisitively on the back of Lady Janet's visitor--the back
being all that he could see in the position he then occupied.
After a pause of an instant the visitor spoke, and further
uncertainty was at once at an end. Horace, nevertheless, made no
movement to enter the room. He had his own jealous distrust of
what Julian might be tempted to say at a private interview with
his aunt; and he waited a little longer on the chance that his
doubts might be verified.
"Neither you nor Miss Roseberry need any protection from the poor
deluded creature," Julian went on. "I have gained great influence
over her--and I have satisfied her that it is useless to present
herself here again."
"I beg your pardon," interposed Horace, speaking from the
conservatory door. "You have done nothing of the sort."
(He had heard enough to satisfy him that the talk was not taking
the direction which his Suspicions had anticipated. And, as an
additional incentive to show himself, a happy chance had now
offered him the opportunity of putting Julian in the wrong.)
"Good heavens, Horace!" exclaimed Lady Janet. "Where did you come
from? And what do you mean?"
"I heard at the lodge that your ladyship and Grace had returned
last night. And I came in at once without troubling the servants,
by the shortest way." He turned to Julian next. "The woman you
were speaking of just now," he proceeded, "has been here again
already--in Lady Janet's absence."
Lady Janet immediately looked at her nephew. Julian reassured her
by a gesture.
"Impossible," he said. "There must be some mistake."
"There is no mistake," Horace rejoined. "I am repeating what I
have just heard from the lodge-keeper himself. He hesitated to
mention it to Lady Janet for fear of alarming her. Only three
days since this person had the audacity to ask him for her
ladyship's address at the sea-side. Of course he refused to give
"You hear that, Julian?" said Lady Janet.
No signs of anger or mortification escaped Julian. The expression
in his face at that moment was an expression of sincere distress.
"Pray don't alarm yourself," he said to his aunt, in his quietest
tones. "If she attempts to annoy you or Miss Roseberry again, I
have it in my power to stop her instantly."
"How?" asked Lady Janet.
"How, indeed!" echoed Horace. "If we give her in charge to the
police, we shall become the subject of a public scandal."
"I have managed to avoid all danger of scandal," Julian answered;
the expression of distress in his face becoming more and more
marked while he spoke. "Before I called here to-day I had a
private consultation with the magistrate of the district, and I
have made certain arrangements at the police station close by. On
receipt of my card, an experienced man, in plain clothes, will
present himself at any address that I indicate, and will take her
quietly away. The magistrate will hear the charge in his private
room, and will examine the evidence which I can produce, showing
that she is not accountable for her actions. The proper medical
officer will report officially on the case, and the law will
place her under the necessary restraint."
Lady Janet and Horace looked at each other in amazement. Julian
was, in their opinion, the last man on earth to take the
course--at once sensible and severe--which Julian had actually
adopted. Lady Janet insisted on an explanation.
"Why do I hear of this now for the first time?" she asked. "Why
did you not tell me you had taken these precautions before?"
Julian answered frankly and sadly.
"Because I hoped, aunt, that there would be no necessity for
proceeding to extremities. You now force me to acknowledge that
the lawyer and the doctor (both of whom I have seen this morning)
think, as you do, that she is not to be trusted. It was at their
suggestion entirely that I went to the magistrate. They put it to
me whether the result of my inquiries abroad--unsatisfactory as
it may have been in other respects--did not strengthen the
conclusion that the poor woman's mind is deranged. I felt
compelled in common honesty to admit that it was so. Having owned
this, I was bound to take such precautions as the lawyer and the
doctor thought necessary. I have done my duty--sorely against my
own will. It is weak of me, I dare say; but I can _not_ bear the
thought of treating this afflicted creature harshly. Her delusion
is so hopeless! her situation is such a pitiable one!"
His voice faltered. He turned away abruptly and took up his hat.
Lady Janet followed him, and spoke to him at the door. Horace
smiled satirically, and went to warm himself at the fire.
"Are you going away, Julian?"
"I am only going to the lodge-keeper. I want to give him a word
of warning in case of his seeing her again."
"You will come back here?" (Lady Janet lowered her voice to a
whisper.) "There is really a reason, Julian, for your not leaving
the house now."
"I promise not to go away, aunt, until I have provided for your
security. If you, or your adopted daughter, are alarmed by
another intrusion, I give you my word of honor my card shall go
to the police station, however painfully I may feel it myself."
(He, too, lowered his voice at the next words ) "In the meantime,
remember what I confessed to you while we were alone. For my
sake, let me see as little of Miss Roseberry as possible. Shall I
find you in this room when I come back?"
He laid a strong emphasis, of look as well as of tone, on that
one word. Lady Janet understood what the emphasis meant.
"Are you really," she whispered, "as much in love with Grace as
Julian laid one hand on his aunt's arm, and pointed with the
other to Horace--standing with his back to them, warming his feet
on the fender.
"Well?" said Lady Janet.
"Well," said Julian, with a smile on his lip and a tear in his
eye, "I never envied any man as I envy _him!_"
With those words he left the room.
A WOMAN'S REMORSE.
HAVING warmed his feet to his own entire satisfaction, Horace
turned round from the fireplace, and discovered that he and Lady
Janet were alone.
"Can I see Grace?" he asked.
The easy tone in which he put the question--a tone, as it were,
of proprietorship in "Grace"--jarred on Lady Janet at the moment.
For the first time in her life she found herself comparing Horace
with Julian--to Horace's disadvantage. He was rich; he was a
gentleman of ancient lineage; he bore an unblemished character.
But who had the strong brain? who had the great heart? Which was
the Man of the two?
"Nobody can see her," answered Lady Janet. "Not even you!"
The tone of the reply was sharp, with a dash of irony in it. But
where is the modern young man, possessed of health and an
independ ent income, who is capable of understanding that irony
can be presumptuous enough to address itself to _him?_ Horace
(with perfect politeness) declined to consider himself answered.
"Does your ladyship mean that Miss Roseberry is in bed?" he
"I mean that Miss Roseberry is in her room. I mean that I have
twice tried to persuade Miss Roseberry to dress and come
downstairs, and tried in vain. I mean that what Miss Roseberry
refuses to do for Me, she is not likely to do for You--"
How many more meanings of her own Lady Janet might have gone on
enumerating, it is not easy to calculate. At her third sentence a
sound in the library caught her ear through the incompletely
closed door and suspended the next words on her lips. Horace
heard it also. It was the rustling sound (traveling nearer and
nearer over the library carpet) of a silken dress.
(In the interval while a coming event remains in a state of
uncertainty, what is it the inevitable tendency of every
Englishman under thirty to do? His inevitable tendency is to ask
somebody to bet on the event. He can no more resist it than he
can resist lifting his stick or his umbrella, in the absence of a
gun, and pretending to shoot if a bird flies by him while he is
out for a walk.)
"What will your ladyship bet that this is not Grace?" cried
Her ladyship took no notice of the proposal; her attention
remained fixed on the library door. The rustling sound stopped
for a moment. The door was softly pushed open. The false Grace
Roseberry entered the room.
Horace advanced to meet her, opened his lips to speak, and
stopped--struck dumb by the change in his affianced wife since he
had seen her last. Some terrible oppression seemed to have
crushed her. It was as if she had actually shrunk in height as
well as in substance. She walked more slowly than usual; she
spoke more rarely than usual, and in a lower tone. To those who
had seen her before the fatal visit of the stranger from
Mannheim, it was the wreck of the woman that now appeared instead
of the woman herself. And yet there was the old charm still
surviving through it all; the grandeur of the head and eyes, the
delicate symmetry of the features, the unsought grace of every
movement--in a word, the unconquerable beauty which suffering
cannot destroy, and which time itself is powerless to wear out.
Lady Janet advanced, and took her with hearty kindness by both
"My dear child, welcome among us again! You have come down stairs
to please me?"
She bent her head in silent acknowledgment that it was so. Lady
Janet pointed to Horace: "Here is somebody who has been longing
to see you, Grace."
She never looked up; she stood submissive, her eyes fixed on a
little basket of colored wools which hung on her arm. "Thank you,
Lady Janet," she said, faintly. "Thank you, Horace."
Horace placed her arm in his, and led her to the sofa. She
shivered as she took her seat, and looked round her. It was the
first time she had seen the dining-room since the day when she
had found herself face to face with the dead-alive.
"Why do you come here, my love?" asked Lady Janet. "The
drawing-room would have been a warmer and a pleasanter place for
"I saw a carriage at the front door. I was afraid of meeting with
visitors in the drawing-room."
As she made that reply, the servant came in, and announced the
visitors' names. Lady Janet sighed wearily. "I must go and get
rid of them," she said, resigning herself to circumstances. "What
will _you_ do, Grace?"
"I will stay here, if you please."
"I will keep her company," added Horace.
Lady Janet hesitated. She had promised to see her nephew in the
dining-room on his return to the house--and to see him alone.
Would there be time enough to get rid of the visitors and to
establish her adopted daughter in the empty drawing-room before
Julian appeared? It was ten minutes' walk to the lodge, and he
had to make the gate-keeper understand his instructions. Lady
Janet decided that she had time enough at her disposal. She
nodded kindly to Mercy, and left her alone with her lover.
Horace seated himself in the vacant place on the sofa. So far as
it was in his nature to devote himself to any one he was devoted
to Mercy. "I am grieved to see how you have suffered," he said,
with honest distress in his face as he looked at her. "Try to
forget what has happened."
"I am trying to forget. Do _you_ think of it much?"
"My darling, it is too contemptible to be thought of."
She placed her work-basket on her lap. Her wasted fingers began
absently sorting the wools inside.
"Have you seen Mr. Julian Gray?" she asked, suddenly.
"What does _he_ say about it?" She looked at Horace for the first
time, steadily scrutinizing his face. Horace took refuge in
"I really haven't asked for Julian's opinion," he said.
She looked down again, with a sigh, at the basket on her
lap--considered a little--and tried him once more.
"Why has Mr. Julian Gray not been here for a whole week?" she
went on. "The servants say he has been abroad. Is that true?"
It was useless to deny it. Horace admitted that the servants were
Her fingers, suddenly stopped at their restless work among the
wools; her breath quickened perceptibly. What had Julian Gray
been doing abroad? Had he been making inquiries? Did he alone, of
all the people who saw that terrible meeting, suspect her? Yes!
His was the finer intelligence; his was a clergyman's (a London
clergyman's) experience of frauds and deceptions, and of the
women who were guilty of them. Not a doubt of it now! Julian
"When does he come back?" she asked, in tones so low that Horace
could barely hear her.
"He has come back already. He returned last night."
A faint shade of color stole slowly over the pallor of her face.
She suddenly put her basket away, and clasped her hands together
to quiet the trembling of them, before she asked her next
"Where is--" She paused to steady her voice. "Where is the
person," she resumed, "who came here and frightened me?"
Horace hastened to re-assure her. "The person will not come
again," he said. "Don't talk of her! Don't think of her!"
She shook her head. "There is something I want to know," she
persisted. "How did Mr. Julian Gray become acquainted with her?"
This was easily answered. Horace mentioned the consul at
Mannheim, and the letter of introduction. She listened eagerly,
and said her next words in a louder, firmer tone.
"She was quite a stranger, then, to Mr. Julian Gray--before
"Quite a stranger," Horace replied. "No more questions--not
another word about her, Grace! I forbid the subject. Come, my own
love!" he said, taking her hand and bending over her tenderly,
"rally your spirits! We are young--we love each other--now is our
time to be happy!"
Her hand turned suddenly cold, and trembled in his. Her head sank
with a helpless weariness on her breast. Horace rose in alarm.
"You are cold--you are faint, "he said. "Let me get you a glass
of wine!--let me mend the fire!"
The decanters were still on the luncheon-table. Horace insisted
on her drinking some port-wine. She barely took half the contents
of the wine-glass. Even that little told on her sensitive
organization; it roused her sinking energies of body and mind.
After watching her anxiously, without attracting her notice,
Horace left her again to attend to the fire at the other end of
the room. Her eyes followed him slowly with a hard and tearless
despair. "Rally your spirits," she repeated to herself in a
whisper. "My spirits! O God!" She looked round her at the luxury
and beauty of the room, as those look who take their leave of
familiar scenes. The moment after, her eyes sank, and rested on
the rich dress that she wore a gift from Lady Janet. She thought
of the past; she thought of the future. Was the time near when
she would be back again in the Refuge, or back again in the
streets?--she who had been Lady Janet's adopted daughter, and
Horace Holmcroft's betrothed wife! A sudden frenzy of
recklessness seized on her as she thought of the coming end.
Horace was right! Why not rally her spirits? Why not make the
most of her time? The l ast hours of her life in that house were
at hand. Why not enjoy her stolen position while she could?
"Adventuress!" whispered the mocking spirit within her, "be true
to your character. Away with your remorse! Remorse is the luxury
of an honest woman." She caught up her basket of wools, inspired
by a new idea. "Ring the bell!" she cried out to Horace at the
He looked round in wonder. The sound of her voice was so
completely altered that he almost fancied there must have been
another woman in the room.
"Ring the bell!" she repeated. "I have left my work upstairs. If
you want me to be in good spirits, I must have my work."
Still looking at her, Horace put his hand mechanically to the
bell and rang. One of the men-servants came in.
"Go upstairs and ask my maid for my work," she said, sharply.
Even the man was taken by surprise: it was her habit to speak to
the servants with a gentleness and consideration which had long
since won all their hearts. "Do you hear me?" she asked,
impatiently. The servant bowed, and went out on his errand. She
turned to Horace with flashing eyes and fevered cheeks.
"What a comfort it is," she said, "to belong to the upper
classes! A poor woman has no maid to dress her, and no footman to
send upstairs. Is life worth having, Horace, on less than five
thousand a year?"
The servant returned with a strip of embroidery. She took it with
an insolent grace, and told him to bring her a footstool. The man
obeyed. She tossed the embroidery away from her on the sofa. "On
second thoughts, I don't care about my work," she said. "Take it
upstairs again." The perfectly trained servant, marveling
privately, obeyed once more. Horace, in silent astonishment,
advanced to the sofa to observe her more nearly. "How grave you
look!" she exclaimed, with an air of flippant unconcern. "You
don't approve of my sitting idle, perhaps? Anything to please
you! _I_ haven't got to go up and downstairs. Ring the bell
"My dear Grace," Horace remonstrated, gravely, "you are quite
mistaken. I never even thought of your work."
"Never mind; it's inconsistent to send for my work, and then send
it away again. Ring the bell."
Horace looked at her without moving. "Grace," he said, "what has
come to you?"
"How should I know?" she retorted, carelessly. "Didn't you tell
me to rally my spirits? Will you ring the bell, or must I?"
Horace submitted. He frowned as he walked back to the bell. He
was one of the many people who instinctively resent anything that
is new to them. This strange outbreak was quite new to him. For
the first time in his life he felt sympathy for a servant, when
the much-enduring man appeared once more.
"Bring my work back; I have changed my mind." With that brief
explanation she reclined luxuriously on the soft sofa-cushions,
swinging one of her balls of wool to and fro above her head, and
looking at it lazily as she lay back. "I have a remark to make,
Horace," she went on, when the door had closed on her messenger.
"It is only people in our rank of life who get good servants. Did
you notice? Nothing upsets that man's temper. A servant in a poor
family should have been impudent; a maid-of-all-work would have
wondered when I was going to know my own mind." The man returned
with the embroidery. This time she received him graciously; she
dismissed him with her thanks. "Have you seen your mother lately,
Horace?" she asked, suddenly sitting up and busying herself with
"I saw her yesterday," Horace answered.
"She understands, I hope, that I am not well enough to call on
her? She is not offended with me?"
Horace recovered his serenity. The deference to his mother
implied in Mercy's questions gently flattered his self-esteem. He
resumed his place on the sofa.
"Offended with you!" he answered, smiling." My dear Grace, she
sends you her love. And, more than that, she has a wedding
present for you."
Mercy became absorbed in her work; she stooped close over the
embroidery--so close that Horace could not see her face. "Do you
know what the present is?" she asked, in lowered tones, speaking
"No. I only know it is waiting for you. Shall I go and get it
She neither accepted nor refused the proposal--she went on with
her work more industriously than ever.
"There is plenty of time," Horace persisted. "I can go before
Still she took no notice: still she never looked up. "Your mother
is very kind to me," she said, abruptly. "I was afraid, at one
time, that she would think me hardly good enough to be your
Horace laughed indulgently: his self-esteem was more gently
flattered than ever.
"Absurd!" he exclaimed. "My darling, you are connected with Lady
Janet Roy. Your family is almost as good as ours."
"Almost?" she repeated. "Only almost?"
The momentary levity of expression vanished from Horace's face.
The family question was far too serious a question to be lightly
treated A becoming shadow of solemnity stole over his manner. He
looked as if it was Sunday, and he was just stepping into church.
"In OUR family," he said, "we trace back--by my father, to the
Saxons; by my mother, to the Normans. Lady Janet's family is an
old family--on her side only."
Mercy dropped her embroidery, and looked Horace full in the face.
She, too, attached no common importance to what she had next to
"If I had not been connected with Lady Janet," she began, "would
you ever have thought of marrying me?"
"My love! what is the use of asking? You _are_ connected with
She refused to let him escape answering her in that way.
"Suppose I had not been connected with Lady Janet?" she
persisted. "Suppose I had only been a good girl, with nothing but
my own merits to speak for me. What would your mother have said
Horace still parried the question--only to find the point of it
pressed home on him once more.
"Why do you ask?" he said.
"I ask to be answered," she rejoined. "Would your mother have
liked you to marry a poor girl, of no family--with nothing but
her own virtues to speak for her?"
Horace was fairly pressed back to the wall.
"If you must know," he replied, "my mother would have refused to
sanction such a marriage as that."
"No matter how good the girl might have been?"
There was something defiant--almost threatening--in her tone.
Horace was annoyed--and he showed it when he spoke.
"My mother would have respected the girl, without ceasing to
respect herself," he said. "My mother would have remembered what
was due to the family name."
"And she would have said, No?"
"She would have said, No."
There was an undertone of angry contempt in the exclamation which
made Horace start. "What is the matter?" he asked.
"Nothing," she answered, and took up her embroidery again. There
he sat at her side, anxiously looking at her--his hope in the
future centered in his marriage! In a week more, if she chose,
she might enter that ancient family of which he had spoken so
proudly, as his wife. "Oh!" she thought, "if I didn't love him!
if I had only his merciless mother to think of!"
Uneasily conscious of some estrangement between them, Horace
spoke again. "Surely I have not offended you?" he said.
She turned toward him once more. The work dropped unheeded on her
lap. Her grand eyes softened into tenderness. A smile trembled
sadly on her delicate lips. She laid one hand caressingly on his
shoulder. All the beauty of her voice lent its charm to the next
words that she said to him. The woman's heart hungered in its
misery for the comfort that could only come from his lips.
"_You_ would have loved me, Horace--without stopping to think of
the family name?"
The family name again! How strangely she persisted in coming back
to that! Horace looked at her without answering, trying vainly to
fathom what was passing in her mind.
She took his hand, and wrung it hard--as if she would wring the
answer out of him in that way.
"_You_ would have loved me?" she repeated.
The double spell of her voice and her touch was on him. He
answered, warmly, "Under any circumstances! under any name!"
She put one arm round his neck, and fixed her eyes on his. "Is
that true?" she asked.
"True as t he heaven above us!"
She drank in those few commonplace words with a greedy delight.
She forced him to repeat them in a new form.
"No matter who I might have been? For myself alone?"
"For yourself alone."
She threw both arms round him, and laid her head passionately on
his breast. "I love you! I love you!! I love you!!!" Her voice
rose with hysterical vehemence at each repetition of the
words--then suddenly sank to a low hoarse cry of rage and
despair. The sense of her true position toward him revealed
itself in all its horror as the confession of her love escaped
her lips. Her arms dropped from him; she flung herself back on
the sofa-cushions, hiding her face in her hands. "Oh, leave me!"
she moaned, faintly. "Go! go!"
Horace tried to wind his arm round her, and raise her. She
started to her feet, and waved him back from her with a wild
action of her hands, as if she was frightened of him. "The
wedding present!" she cried, seizing the first pretext that
occurred to her. "You offered to bring me your mother's present.
I am dying to see what it is. Go and get it!"
Horace tried to compose her. He might as well have tried to
compose the winds and the sea.
"Go!" she repeated, pressing one clinched hand on her bosom. "I
am not well. Talking excites me--I am hysterical; I shall be
better alone. Get me the present. Go!"
"Shall I send Lady Janet? Shall I ring for your maid?"
"Send for nobody! ring for nobody! If you love me--leave me here
by myself! leave me instantly!"
"I shall see you when I come back?"
There was no alternative but to obey her. Unwillingly and
forebodingly, Horace left the room.
She drew a deep breath of relief, and dropped into the nearest
chair. If Horace had stayed a moment longer--she felt it, she
knew it--her head would have given way; she would have burst out
before him with the terrible truth. "Oh!" she thought, pressing
her cold hands on her burning eyes, "if I could only cry, now
there is nobody to see me!"
The room was empty: she had every reason for concluding that she
was alone. And yet at that very moment there were ears that
listened--there were eyes waiting to see her.
Little by little the door behind her which faced the library and
led into the billiard-room was opened noiselessly from without,
by an inch at a time. As the opening was enlarged a hand in a
black glove, an arm in a black sleeve, appeared, guiding the
movement of the door. An interval of a moment passed, and the
worn white face of Grace Roseberry showed itself stealthily,
looking into the dining-room.
Her eyes brightened with vindictive pleasure as they discovered
Mercy sitting alone at the further end of the room. Inch by inch
she opened the door more widely, took one step forward, and
checked herself. A sound, just audible at the far end of the
conservatory, had caught her ear.
She listened--satisfied herself that she was not mistaken--and
drawing back with a frown of displeasure, softly closed the door
again, so as to hide herself from view. The sound that had
disturbed her was the distant murmur of men's voices (apparently
two in number) talking together in lowered tones, at the garden
entrance to the conservatory.
Who were the men? and what would they do next? They might do one
of two things: they might enter the drawing-room, or they might
withdraw again by way of the garden. Kneeling behind the door,
with her ear at the key-hole, Grace Roseberry waited the event.
THEY MEET AGAIN.
ABSORBED in herself, Mercy failed to notice the opening door or
to hear the murmur of voices in the conservatory.
The one terrible necessity which had been present to her mind at
intervals for a week past was confronting her at that moment. She
owed to Grace Roseberry the tardy justice of owning the truth.
The longer her confession was delayed, the more cruelly she was
injuring the woman whom she had robbed of her identity--the
friendless woman who had neither witnesses nor papers to produce,
who was powerless to right her own wrong. Keenly as she felt
this, Mercy failed, nevertheless, to conquer the horror that
shook her when she thought of the impending avowal. Day followed
day, and still she shrank from the unendurable ordeal of
confession--as she was shrinking from it now!
Was it fear for herself that closed her lips?
She trembled--as any human being in her place must have
trembled--at the bare idea of finding herself thrown back again
on the world, which had no place in it and no hope in it for
_her_. But she could have overcome that terror--she could have
resigned herself to that doom.
No! it was not the fear of the confession itself, or the fear of
the consequences which must follow it, that still held her
silent. The horror that daunted her was the horror of owning to
Horace and to Lady Janet that she had cheated them out of their
Every day Lady Janet was kinder and kinder. Every day Horace was
fonder and fonder of her. How could she confess to Lady Janet?
how could she own to Horace that she had imposed upon him? "I
can't do it. They are so good to me--I can't do it!" In that
hopeless way it had ended during the seven days that had gone by.
In that hopeless way it ended again now.
The murmur of the two voices at the further end of the
conservatory ceased. The billiard-room door opened again slowly,
by an inch at a time.
Mercy still kept her place, unconscious of the events that were
passing round her. Sinking under the hard stress laid on it, her
mind had drifted little by little into a new train of thought.
For the first time she found the courage to question the future
in a new way. Supposing her confession to have been made, or
supposing the woman whom she had personated to have discovered
the means of exposing the fraud, what advantage, she now asked
herself, would Miss Roseberry derive from Mercy Merrick's
Could Lady Janet transfer to the woman who was really her
relative by marriage the affection which she had given to the
woman who had pretended to be her relative? No! All the right in
the world would not put the true Grace into the false Grace's
vacant place. The qualities by which Mercy had won Lady Janet's
love were the qualities which were Mercy's won. Lady Janet could
do rigid justice--but hers was not the heart to give itself to a
stranger (and to give itself unreservedly) a second time. Grace
Roseberry would be formally acknowledged--and there it would end.
Was there hope in this new view?
Yes! There was the false hope of making the inevitable atonement
by some other means than by the confession of the fraud.
What had Grace Roseberry actually lost by the wrong done to her?
She had lost the salary of Lady Janet's "companion and reader."
Say that she wanted money, Mercy had her savings from the
generous allowance made to her by Lady Janet; Mercy could offer
money. Or say that she wanted employment, Mercy's interest with
Lady Janet could offer employment, could offer anything Grace
might ask for, if she would only come to terms.
Invigorated by the new hope, Mercy rose excitedly, weary of
inaction in the empty room. She, who but a few minutes since had
shuddered at the thought of their meeting again, was now eager to
devise a means of finding her way privately to an interview with
Grace. It should be done without loss of time--on that very day,
if possible; by the next day at latest. She looked round her
mechanically, pondering how to reach the end in view. Her eyes
rested by chance on the door of the billiard-room.
Was it fancy? or did she really see the door first open a little,
then suddenly and softly close again?
Was it fancy? or did she really hear, at the same moment, a sound
behind her as of persons speaking in the conservatory?
She paused; and, looking back in that direction, listened
intently. The sound--if she had really heard it--was no longer
audible. She advanced toward the billiard-room to set her first
doubt at rest. She stretched out her hand to open the door, when
the voices (recognizable now as the voices of two men) caught her
ear once more.
This time she was able to distinguish the words that were spoken.
"Any further orders, sir?" inquired one of the men.
"Nothing more," replied the other.
Mercy started, and faintly flushed, as the second voice answered
the first. She stood irresolute close to the billiard-room,
hesitating what to do next.
After an interval the second voice made itself heard again,
advancing nearer to the dining-room: "Are you there, aunt?" it
asked cautiously. There was a moment's pause. Then the voice
spoke for the third time, sounding louder and nearer. "Are you
there?" it reiterated; "I have something to tell you." Mercy
summoned her resolution and answered: "Lady Janet is not here."
She turned as she spoke toward the conservatory door, and
confronted on the threshold Julian Gray.
They looked at one another without exchanging a word on either
side. The situation--for widely different reasons--was equally
embarrassing to both of them.
There--as Julian saw _her_--was the woman forbidden to him, the
woman whom he loved.
There--as Mercy saw _him_--was the man whom she dreaded, the man
whose actions (as she interpreted them) proved that he suspected
On the surface of it, the incidents which had marked their first
meeting were now exactly repeated, with the one difference that
the impulse to withdraw this time appeared to be on the man's
side and not on the woman's. It was Mercy who spoke first.
"Did you expect to find Lady Janet here?" she asked,
constrainedly. He answered, on his part, more constrainedly
"It doesn't matter," he said. "Another time will do."
He drew back as he made the reply. She advanced desperately, with
the deliberate intention of detaining him by speaking again.
The attempt which he had made to withdraw, the constraint in his
manner when he had answered, had instantly confirmed her in the
false conviction that he, and he alone, had guessed the truth! If
she was right--if he had secretly made discoveries abroad which
placed her entirely at his mercy--the attempt to induce Grace to
consent to a compromise with her would be manifestly useless. Her
first and foremost interest now was to find out how she really
stood in the estimation of Julian Gray. In a terror of suspense,
that turned her cold from head to foot, she stopped him on his
way out, and spoke to him with the piteous counterfeit of a
"Lady Janet is receiving some visitors," she said. "If you will
wait here, she will be back directly."
The effort of hiding her agitation from him had brought a passing
color into her cheeks. Worn and wasted as she was, the spell of
her beauty was strong enough to hold him against his own will.
All he had to tell Lady Janet was that he had met one of the
gardeners in the conservatory, and had cautioned him as well as
the lodge-keeper. It would have been easy to write this, and to
send the note to his aunt on quitting the house. For the sake of
his own peace of mind, for the sake of his duty to Horace, he was
doubly bound to make the first polite excuse that occurred to
him, and to leave her as he had found her, alone in the room. He
made the attempt, and hesitated. Despising himself for doing it,
he allowed himself to look at her. Their eyes met. Julian stepped
into the dining-room.
"If I am not in the way," he said, confusedly, "I will wait, as
you kindly propose."
She noticed his embarrassment; she saw that he was strongly
restraining himself from looking at her again. Her own eyes
dropped to the ground as she made the discovery. Her speech
failed her; her heart throbbed faster and faster.
"If I look at him again" (was the thought in _her_ mind) "I shall
fall at his feet and tell him all that I have done!"
"If I look at her again" (was the thought in _his_ mind) "I shall
fall at her feet and own that I am in love with her!"
With downcast eyes he placed a chair for her. With downcast eyes
she bowed to him and took it. A dead silence followed. Never was
any human misunderstanding more intricately complete than the
misunderstanding which had now established itself between those
Mercy's work-basket was near her. She took it, and gained time
for composing herself by pretending to arrange the colored wools.
He stood behind her chair, looking at the graceful turn of her
head, looking at the rich masses of her hair. He reviled himself
as the weakest of men, as the falsest of friends, for still
remaining near her--and yet he remained.
The silence continued. The billiard-room door opened again
noiselessly. The face of the listening woman appeared stealthily
At the same moment Mercy roused herself and spoke: "Won't you sit
down?" she said, softly, still not looking round at him, still
busy with her basket of wools.
He turned to get a chair--turned so quickly that he saw the
billiard-room door move, as Grace Roseberry closed it again.
"Is there any one in that room?" he asked, addressing Mercy.
"I don't know," she answered. "I thought I saw the door open and
shut again a little while ago."
He advanced at once to look into the room. As he did so Mercy
dropped one of her balls of wool. He stopped to pick it up for
her--then threw open the door and looked into the billiard-room.
It was empty.
Had some person been listening, and had that person retreated in
time to escape discovery? The open door of the smoking-room
showed that room also to be empty. A third door was open--the
door of the side hall, leading into the grounds. Julian closed
and locked it, and returned to the dining-room.
"I can only suppose," he said to Mercy, "that the billiard-room
door was not properly shut, and that the draught of air from the
hall must have moved it."
She accepted the explanation in silence. He was, to all
appearance, not quite satisfied with it himself. For a moment or
two he looked about him uneasily. Then the old fascination
fastened its hold on him again. Once more he looked at the
graceful turn of her head, at the rich masses of her hair. The
courage to put the critical question to him, now that she had
lured him into remaining in the room, was still a courage that
failed her. She remained as busy as ever with her work--too busy
to look at him; too busy to speak to him. The silence became
unendurable. He broke it by making a commonplace inquiry after
her health. "I am well enough to be ashamed of the anxiety I have
caused and the trouble I have given," she answered. "To-day I
have got downstairs for the first time. I am trying to do a
little work." She looked into the basket. The various specimens
of wool in it were partly in balls and partly in loose skeins.
The skeins were mixed and tangled. "Here is sad confusion!" she
exclaimed, timidly, with a faint smile. "How am I to set it right
"Let me help you," said Julian.
"Why not?" he asked, with a momentary return of the quaint humor
which she remembered so well. "You forget that I am a curate.
Curates are privileged to make themselves useful to young ladies.
Let me try."
He took a stool at her feet, and set himself to unravel one of
the tangled skeins. In a minute the wool was stretched on his
hands, and the loose end was ready for Mercy to wind. There was
something in the trivial action, and in the homely attention that
it implied, which in some degree quieted her fear of him. She
began to roll the wool off his hands into a ball. Thus occupied,
she said the daring words which were to lead him little by little
into betraying his suspicions, if he did indeed suspect the
THE GUARDIAN ANGEL.
"You were here when I fainted, were you not?" Mercy began. "You
must think me a sad coward, even for a woman."
He shook his head. "I am far from thinking that, "he replied. "No
courage could have sustained the shock which fell on you. I don't
wonder that you fainted. I don't wonder that you have been ill."
She paused in rolling up the ball of wool. What did those words
of unexpected sympathy mean? Was he laying a trap for her? Urged
by that serious doubt, she questioned him more boldly.
"Horace tells me you have been abroad," she said. "Did you enjoy
"It was no holiday. I went abroad because I thought it right to
make certain inquiries--" He stopped there, unwilling to return
to a subject that was painful to her.
Her v oice sank, her fingers trembled round the ball of wool; but
she managed to go on.
"Did you arrive at any results?" she asked.
"At no results worth mentioning."
The caution of that reply renewed her worst suspicions of him. In
sheer despair, she spoke out plainly.
"I want to know your opinion--" she began.
"Gently!" said Julian. "You are entangling the wool again."
"I want to know your opinion of the person who so terribly
frightened me. Do you think her--"
"Do I think her--what?"
"Do you think her an adventuress?"
(As she said those words the branches of a shrub in the
conservatory were noiselessly parted by a hand in a black glove.
The face of Grace Roseberry appeared dimly behind the leaves.
Undiscovered, she had escaped from the billiard-room, and had
stolen her way into the conservatory as the safer hiding-place of
the two. Behind the shrub she could see as well as listen. Behind
the shrub she waited as patiently as ever.)
"I take a more merciful view," Julian answered. "I believe she is
acting under a delusion. I don't blame her: I pity her."
"You pity her?" As Mercy repeated the words, she tore off
Julian's hands the last few lengths of wool left, and threw the
imperfectly wound skein back into the basket. "Does that mean,"
she resumed, abruptly, "that you believe her?"
Julian rose from his seat, and looked at Mercy in astonishment.
"Good heavens, Miss Roseberry! what put such an idea as that into
"I am little better than a stranger to you," she rejoined, with
an effort to assume a jesting tone. "You met that person before
you met with me. It is not so very far from pitying her to
believing her. How could I feel sure that you might not suspect
"Suspect _you!_" he exclaimed. "You don't know how you distress,
how you shock me. Suspect _you!_ The bare idea of it never
entered my mind. The man doesn't live who trusts you more
implicitly, who believes in you more devotedly, than I do."
His eyes, his voice, his manner, all told her that those words
came from the heart. She contrasted his generous confidence in
her (the confidence of which she was unworthy) with her
ungracious distrust of him. Not only had she wronged Grace
Roseberry--she had wronged Julian Gray. Could she deceive him as
she had deceived the others? Could she meanly accept that
implicit trust, that devoted belief? Never had she felt the base
submissions which her own imposture condemned her to undergo with
a loathing of them so overwhelming as the loathing that she felt
now. In horror of herself, she turned her head aside in silence
and shrank from meeting his eye. He noticed the movement, placing
his own interpretation on it. Advancing closer, he asked
anxiously if he had offended her.
"You don't know how your confidence touches me," she said,
without looking up. "You little think how keenly I feel your
She checked herself abruptly. Her fine tact warned her that she
was speaking too warmly--that the expression of her gratitude
might strike him as being strangely exaggerated. She handed him
her work-basket before he could speak again.
"Will you put it away for me?" she asked, in her quieter tones.
"I don't feel able to work just now."
His back was turned on her for a moment, while he placed the
basket on a side-table. In that moment her mind advanced at a
bound from present to future. Accident might one day put the true
Grace in possession of the proofs that she needed, and might
reveal the false Grace to him in the identity that was her own.
What would he think of her then? Could she make him tell her
without betraying herself? She determined to try.
"Children are notoriously insatiable if you once answer their
questions, and women are nearly as bad," she said, when Julian
returned to her. "Will your patience hold out if I go back for
the third time to the person whom we have been speaking of?"
"Try me," he answered, with a smile.
"Suppose you had _not_ taken your merciful view of her?"
"Suppose you believed that she was wickedly bent on deceiving
others for a purpose of her own--would you not shrink from such a
woman in horror and disgust?"
"God forbid that I should shrink from any human creature!" he
answered, earnestly. "Who among us has a right to do that?"