Part 4 out of 7
She hardly dared trust herself to believe him. "You would still
pity her?" she persisted, "and still feel for her?"
"With all my heart."
"Oh, how good you are!"
He held up his hand in warning. The tones of his voice deepened,
the luster of his eyes brightened. She had stirred in the depths
of that great heart the faith in which the man lived--the steady
principle which guided his modest and noble life.
"No!" he cried. "Don't say that! Say that I try to love my
neighbor as myself. Who but a Pharisee can believe that he is
better than another? The best among us to-day may, but for the
mercy of God, be the worst among us tomorrow. The true Christian
virtue is the virtue which never despairs of a fellow-creature.
The true Christian faith believes in Man as well as in God. Frail
and fallen as we are, we can rise on the wings of repentance from
earth to heaven. Humanity is sacred. Humanity has its immortal
destiny. Who shall dare say to man or woman, 'There is no hope in
you?' Who shall dare say the work is all vile, when that work
bears on it the stamp of the Creator's hand?"
He turned away for a moment, struggling with the emotion which
she had roused in him.
Her eyes, as they followed him, lighted with a momentary
enthusiasm--then sank wearily in the vain regret which comes too
late. Ah! if he could have been her friend and her adviser on the
fatal day when she first turned her steps toward Mablethorpe
House! She sighed bitterly as the hopeless aspiration wrung her
heart. He heard the sigh; and, turning again, looked at her with
a new interest in his face.
"Miss Roseberry," he said.
She was still absorbed in the bitter memories of the past: she
failed to hear him.
"Miss Roseberry," he repeated, approaching her.
She looked up at him with a start.
"May I venture to ask you something?" he said, gently.
She shrank at the question.
"Don't suppose I am speaking out of mere curiosity," he went on.
"And pray don't answer me unless you can answer without betraying
any confidence which may have been placed in you."
"Confidence!" she repeated. "What confidence do you mean?"
"It has just struck me that you might have felt more than a
common interest in the questions which you put to me a moment
since," he answered. "Were you by any chance speaking of some
unhappy woman--not the person who frightened you, of course--but
of some other woman whom you know?"
Her head sank slowly on her bosom. He had plainly no suspicion
that she had been speaking of herself: his tone and manner both
answered for it that his belief in her was as strong as ever.
Still those last words made her tremble; she could not trust
herself to reply to them.
He accepted the bending of her head as a reply.
"Are you interested in her?" he asked next.
She faintly answered this time. "Yes."
"Have you encouraged her?"
"I have not dared to encourage her."
His face lighted up suddenly with enthusiasm. "Go to her," he
said, "and let me go with you and help you!"
The answer came faintly and mournfully. "She has sunk too low for
He interrupted her with a gesture of impatience.
"What has she done?" he asked.
"She has deceived--basely deceived--innocent people who trusted
her. She has wronged--cruelly wronged--another woman."
For the first time Julian seated himself at her side. The
interest that was now roused in him was an interest above
reproach. He could speak to Mercy without restraint; he could
look at Mercy with a pure heart.
"You judge her very harshly," he said. "Do _you_ know how she may
have been tried and tempted?"
There was no answer.
"Tell me," he went on, "is the person whom she has injured still
"If the person is still living, she may atone for the wrong. The
time may come when this sinner, too, may win our pardon and
deserve our respect."
"Could _you_ respect her?" Mercy asked, sadly. "Can such a mind
as yours understand what she has gone t hrough?"
A smile, kind and momentary, brightened his attentive face.
"You forget my melancholy experience," he answered. "Young as I
am, I have seen more than most men of women who have sinned and
suffered. Even after the little that you have told me, I think I
can put myself in her place. I can well understand, for instance,
that she may have been tempted beyond human resistance. Am I
"You are right."
"She may have had nobody near at the time to advise her, to warn
her, to save her. Is that true?"
"It is true."
"Tempted and friendless, self-abandoned to the evil impulse of
the moment, this woman may have committed herself headlong to the
act which she now vainly repents. She may long to make atonement,
and may not know how to begin. All her energies may be crushed
under the despair and horror of herself, out of which the truest
repentance grows. Is such a woman as this all wicked, all vile? I
deny it! She may have a noble nature; and she may show it nobly
yet. Give her the opportunity she needs, and our poor fallen
fellow-creature may take her place again among the best of
us--honored, blameless, happy, once more!"
Mercy's eyes, resting eagerly on him while he was speaking,
dropped again despondingly when he had done.
"There is no such future as that," she answered, "for the woman
whom I am thinking of. She has lost her opportunity. She has done
Julian gravely considered with himself for a moment.
"Let us understand each other," he said. "She has committed an
act of deception to the injury of another woman. Was that what
you told me?"
"And she has gained something to her own advantage by the act."
"Is she threatened with discovery?"
"She is safe from discovery--for the present, at least."
"Safe as long as she closes her lips?"
"As long as she closes her lips."
"There is her opportunity!" cried Julian. "Her future is before
her. She has not done with hope!"
With clasped hands, in breathless suspense, Mercy looked at that
inspiriting face, and listened to those golden words.
"Explain yourself," she said. "Tell her, through me, what she
"Let her own the truth," answered Julian, "without the base fear
of discovery to drive her to it. Let her do justice to the woman
whom she has wronged, while that woman is still powerless to
expose her. Let her sacrifice everything that she has gained by
the fraud to the sacred duty of atonement. If she can do
that--for conscience' sake, and for pity's sake--to her own
prejudice, to her own shame, to her own loss--then her repentance
has nobly revealed the noble nature that is in her; then she is a
woman to be trusted, respected, beloved! If I saw the Pharisees
and fanatics of this lower earth passing her by in contempt, I
would hold out my hand to her before them all. I would say to her
in her solitude and her affliction, 'Rise, poor wounded heart!
Beautiful, purified soul, God's angels rejoice over you! Take
your place among the noblest of God's creatures!'"
In those last sentences he unconsciously repeated the language in
which he had spoken, years since, to his congregation in the
chapel of the Refuge. With tenfold power and tenfold persuasion
they now found their way again to Mercy's heart. Softly,
suddenly, mysteriously, a change passed over her. Her troubled
face grew beautifully still. The shifting light of terror and
suspense vanished from her grand gray eyes, and left in them the
steady inner glow of a high and pure resolve.
There was a moment of silence between them. They both had need of
silence. Julian was the first to speak again.
"Have I satisfied you that her opportunity is still before her?"
he asked. "Do you feel, as I feel, that she has _not_ done with
"You have satisfied me that the world holds no truer friend to
her than you," Mercy answered, gently and gratefully. "She shall
prove herself worthy of your generous confidence in her. She
shall show you yet that you have not spoken in vain."
Still inevitably failing to understand her, he led the way to the
"Don't waste the precious time," he said. "Don't leave her
cruelly to herself. If you can't go to her, let me go as your
messenger, in your place."
She stopped him by a gesture. He took a step back into the room,
and paused, observing with surprise that she made no attempt to
move from the chair that she occupied.
"Stay here," she said to him, in suddenly altered tones.
"Pardon me, "he rejoined, "I don't understand you."
"You will understand me directly. Give me a little time."
He still lingered near the door, with his eyes fixed inquiringly
on her. A man of a lower nature than his, or a man believing in
Mercy less devotedly than he believed, would now have felt his
first suspicion of her. Julian was as far as ever from suspecting
her, even yet. "Do you wish to be alone?" he asked,
considerately. "Shall I leave you for a while and return again?"
She looked up with a start of terror. "Leave me?" she repeated,
and suddenly checked herself on the point of saying more. Nearly
half the length of the room divided them from each other. The
words which she was longing to say were words that would never
pass her lips unless she could see some encouragement in his
face. "No!" she cried out to him, on a sudden, in her sore need,
"don't leave me! Come back to me!"
He obeyed her in silence. In silence, on her side, she pointed to
the chair near her. He took it. She looked at him, and checked
herself again; resolute to make her terrible confession, yet
still hesitating how to begin. Her woman's instinct whispered to
her, "Find courage in his touch!" She said to him, simply and
artlessly said to him, "Give me encouragement. Give me strength.
Let me take your hand." He neither answered nor moved. His mind
seemed to have become suddenly preoccupied; his eyes rested on
her vacantly. He was on the brink of discovering her secret; in
another instant he would have found his way to the truth. In that
instant, innocently as his sister might have taken it, she took
his hand. The soft clasp of her fingers, clinging round his,
roused his senses, fired his passion for her, swept out of his
mind the pure aspirations which had filled it but the moment
before, paralyzed his perception when it was just penetrating the
mystery of her disturbed manner and her strange words. All the
man in him trembled under the rapture of her touch. But the
thought of Horace was still present to him: his hand lay passive
in hers; his eyes looked uneasily away from her.
She innocently strengthened her clasp of his hand. She innocently
said to him, "Don't look away from me. Your eyes give me
His hand returned the pressure of hers. He tasted to the full the
delicious joy of looking at her. She had broken down his last
reserves of self-control. The thought of Horace, the sense of
honor, became obscured in him. In a moment more he might have
said the words which he would have deplored for the rest of his
life, if she had not stopped him by speaking first. "I have more
to say to you," she resumed abruptly, feeling the animating
resolution to lay her heart bare before him at last; "more, far
more, than I have said yet. Generous, merciful friend, let me say
She attempted to throw herself on her knees at his feet. He
sprung from his seat and checked her, holding her with both his
hands, raising her as he rose himself. In the words which had
just escaped her, in the startling action which had accompanied
them, the truth burst on him. The guilty woman she had spoken of
While she was almost in his arms, while her bosom was just
touching his, before a word more had passed his lips or hers, the
library door opened.
Lady Janet Roy entered the room.
THE SEARCH IN THE GROUNDS.
GRACE ROSEBERRY, still listening in the conservatory, saw the
door open, and recognized the mistress of the house. She softly
drew back, and placed herself in safer hiding, beyond the range
of view from the dining-room.
Lady Janet advanced no further than the threshold. She stood
there and looked at her nephew and her adopted daughter in stern
Mercy dropped into the chair at her side. Julian kept his place
by her. His mind was still stunned by the discovery that had
burst on it; his eyes still rested on her in mute terror of
inquiry. He was as completely absorbed in the one act of looking
at her as if they had been still alone together in the room.
Lady Janet was the first of the three who spoke. She addressed
herself to her nephew.
"You were right, Mr. Julian Gray," she said, with her bitterest
emphasis of tone and manner. "You ought to have found nobody in
this room on your return but _me_. I detain you no longer. You
are free to leave my house."
Julian looked round at his aunt. She was pointing to the door. In
the excited state of his sensibilities at that moment the action
stung him to the quick. He answered without his customary
consideration for his aunt's age and his aunt's position toward
"You apparently forget, Lady Janet, that you are not speaking to
one of your footmen," he said. "There are serious reasons (of
which you know nothing) for my remaining in your house a little
longer. You may rely upon my trespassing on your hospitality as
short a time as possible."
He turned again to Mercy as he said those words, and surprised
her timidly looking up at him. In the instant when their eyes
met, the tumult of emotions struggling in him became suddenly
stilled. Sorrow for her--compassionating sorrow--rose in the new
calm and filled his heart. Now, and now only, he could read in
the wasted and noble face how she had suffered. The pity which he
had felt for the unnamed woman grew to a tenfold pity for _her_.
The faith which he professed--honestly professed--in the better
nature of the unnamed woman strengthened into a tenfold faith in
_her_. He addressed himself again to his aunt, in a gentler tone.
"This lady," he resumed, "has something to say to me in private
which she has not said yet. That is my reason and my apology for
not immediately leaving the house."
Still under the impression of what she had seen on entering the
room, Lady Janet looked at him in angry amazement. Was Julian
actually ignoring Horace Holmcroft’s claims, in the presence of
Horace Holmcroft’s betrothed wife? She appealed to her adopted
daughter. "Grace!" she exclaimed, "have you heard him? Have you
nothing to say? Must I remind you--"
She stopped. For the first time in Lady Janet's experience of her
young companion, she found herself speaking to ears that were
deaf to her. Mercy was incapable of listening. Julian's eyes had
told her that Julian understood her at last!
Lady Janet turned to her nephew once more, and addressed him in
the hardest words that she had ever spoken to her sister's son.
"If you have any sense of decency," she said --"I say nothing of
a sense of honor--you will leave this house, and your
acquaintance with that lady will end here. Spare me your protests
and excuses; I can place but one interpretation on what I saw
when I opened that door."
"You entirely misunderstand what you saw when you opened that
door," Julian answered, quietly.
"Perhaps I misunderstand the confession which you made to me not
an hour ago?" retorted Lady Janet.
Julian cast a look of alarm at Mercy. "Don't speak of it!" he
said, in a whisper. "She might hear you."
"Do you mean to say she doesn't know you are in love with her?"
"Thank God, she has not the faintest suspicion of it!"
There was no mistaking the earnestness with which he made that
reply. It proved his innocence as nothing else could have proved
it. Lady Janet drew back a step--utterly bewildered; completely
at a loss what to say or what to do next.
The silence that followed was broken by a knock at the library
door. The man-servant--with news, and bad news, legibly written
in his disturbed face and manner--entered the room. In the
nervous irritability of the moment, Lady Janet resented the
servant's appearance as a positive offense on the part of the
harmless man. "Who sent for you?" she asked, sharply. "What do
you mean by interrupting us?"
The servant made his excuses in an oddly bewildered manner.
"I beg your ladyship's pardon. I wished to take the liberty--I
wanted to speak to Mr. Julian Gray."
"What is it?" asked Julian.
The man looked uneasily at Lady Janet, hesitated, and glanced at
the door, as if he wished himself well out of the room again.
"I hardly know if I can tell you, sir, before her ladyship," he
Lady Janet instantly penetrated the secret of her servant's
"I know what has happened," she said; "that abominable woman has
found her way here again. Am I right?"
The man's eyes helplessly consulted Julian.
"Yes, or no?" cried Lady Janet, imperatively.
"Yes, my lady."
Julian at once assumed the duty of asking the necessary
"Where is she?" he began.
"Somewhere in the grounds, as we suppose, sir."
"Did _you_ see her?"
"Who saw her?"
"The lodge-keeper's wife."
This looked serious. The lodge-keeper's wife had been present
while Julian had given his instructions to her husband. She was
not likely to have mistaken the identity of the person whom she
"How long since?" Julian asked next.
"Not very long, sir."
"Be more particular. _How_ long?"
"I didn't hear, sir."
"Did the lodge-keeper's wife speak to the person when she saw
"No, sir: she didn't get the chance, as I understand it. She is a
stout woman, if you remember. The other was too quick for her--
discovered her, sir, and (as the saying is) gave her the slip."
"In what part of the grounds did this happen?"
The servant pointed in the direction of the side hall. "In that
part, sir. Either in the Dutch garden or the shrubbery. I am not
It was plain, by this time, that the man's information was too
imperfect to be practically of any use. Julian asked if the
lodge-keeper's wife was in the house.
"No, sir. Her husband has gone out to search the grounds in her
place, and she is minding the gate. They sent their boy with the
message. From what I can make out from the lad, they would be
thankful if they could get a word more of advice from you, sir."
Julian reflected for a moment.
So far as he could estimate them, the probabilities were that the
stranger from Mannheim had already made her way into the house;
that she had been listening in the billiard-room; that she had
found time enough to escape him on his approaching to open the
door; and that she was now (in the servant's phrase) "somewhere
in the grounds," after eluding the pursuit of the lodgekeeper's
The matter was serious. Any mistake in dealing with it might lead
to very painful results.
If Julian had correctly anticipated the nature of the confession
which Mercy had been on the point of addressing to him, the
person whom he had been the means of introducing into the house
was--what she had vainly asserted herself to be--no other than
the true Grace Roseberry.
Taking this for granted, it was of the utmost importance that he
should speak to Grace privately, before she committed herself to
any rashly renewed assertion of her claims, and before she could
gain access to Lady Janet's adopted daughter. The landlady at her
lodgings had already warned him that the object which she held
steadily in view was to find her way to "Miss Roseberry" when
Lady Janet was not present to take her part, and when no
gentleman were at hand to protect her. "Only let me meet her face
to face" (she had said), "and I will make her confess herself the
impostor that she is!" As matters now stood, it was impossible to
estimate too seriously the mischief which might ensue from such a
meeting as this. Everything now depended on Julian's skillful
management of an exasperated woman; and nobody, at that moment,
knew where the woman was.
In this position of affairs, as Julian understood it, there
seemed to be no other alternative than to make his inquiries
instantly at the lodge and then to direct the search in person.
He looked toward Mercy's chair as he arrived at this resolution.
It was at a cruel sacrifice of his own anxieties and his own
wishes that he deferred continuing the conversation with her from
the critical point at which Lady Janet's appearance had inte
Mercy had risen while he had been questioning the servant. The
attention which she had failed to accord to what had passed
between his aunt and himself she had given to the imperfect
statement which he had extracted from the man. Her face plainly
showed that she had listened as eagerly as Lady Janet had
listened; with this remarkable difference between there, that
Lady Janet looked frightened, and that Lady Janet's companion
showed no signs of alarm. She appeared to be interested; perhaps
Julian spoke a parting word to his aunt.
"Pray compose yourself," he said "I have little doubt, when I can
learn the particulars, that we shall easily find this person in
the grounds. There is no reason to be uneasy. I am going to
superintend the search myself. I will return to you as soon as
Lady Janet listened absently. There was a certain expression in
her eyes which suggested to Julian that her mind was busy with
some project of its own. He stopped as he passed Mercy, on his
way out by the billiard-room door. It cost him a hard effort to
control the contending emotions which the mere act of looking at
her now awakened in him. His heart beat fast, his voice sank low,
as he spoke to her.
"You shall see me again," he said. "I never was more in earnest
in promising you my truest help and sympathy than I am now."
She understood him. Her bosom heaved painfully; her eyes fell to
the ground--she made no reply. The tears rose in Julian's eyes as
he looked at her. He hurriedly left the room.
When he turned to close the billiard-room door, he heard Lady
Janet say, "I will be with you again in a moment, Grace; don't go
Interpreting these words as meaning that his aunt had some
business of her own to attend to in the library, he shut the
door. He had just advanced into the smoking-room beyond, when he
thought he heard the door open again. He turned round. Lady Janet
had followed him.
"Do you wish to speak to me?" he asked.
"I want something of you," Lady Janet answered, "before you go."
"What is it?"
"You have just told me not to be uneasy," said the old lady. "I
_am_ uneasy, for all that. I don't feel as sure as you do that
this woman really is in the grounds. She may be lurking somewhere
in the house, and she may appear when your back in turned.
Remember what you told me."
Julian understood the allusion. He made no reply.
"The people at the police station close by," pursued Lady Janet,
"have instructions to send an experienced man, in plain clothes,
to any address indicated on your card the moment they receive it.
That is what you told me. For Grace's protection, I want your
card before you leave us."
It was impossible for Julian to mention the reasons which now
forbade him to make use of his own precautions--in the very face
of the emergency which they had been especially intended to meet.
How could he declare the true Grace Roseberry to be mad? How
could he give the true Grace Roseberry into custody? On the other
hand, he had personally pledged himself (when the circumstances
appeared to require it) to place the means of legal protection
from insult and annoyance at his aunt's disposal. And now, there
stood Lady Janet, unaccustomed to have her wishes disregarded by
anybody, with her band extended, waiting for the card!
What was to be done? The one way out of the difficulty appeared
to be to submit for the moment. If he succeeded in discovering
the missing woman, he could easily take care that she should be
subjected to no needless indignity. If she contrived to slip into
the house in his absence, he could provide against that
contingency by sending a second card privately to the police
station, forbidding the officer to stir in the affair until he
had received further orders. Julian made one stipulation only
before he handed his card to his aunt.
"You will not use this, I am sure, without positive and pressing
necessity," he said. "But I must make one condition. Promise me
to keep my plan for communicating with the police a strict
"A strict secret from Grace?" interposed Lady Janet. (Julian
bowed.) "Do you suppose I want to frighten her? Do you think I
have not had anxiety enough about her already? Of course I shall
keep it a secret from Grace!"
Re-assured on this point, Julian hastened out into the grounds.
As soon as his back was turned Lady Janet lifted the gold
pencil-case which hung at her watch-chain, and wrote on her
nephew's card (for the information of the officer in plain
clothes), "_You are wanted at Mablethorpe House_." This done, she
put the card into the old-fashioned pocket of her dress, and
returned to the dining-room.
Grace was waiting, in obedience to the instructions which she had
For the first moment or two not a word was spoken on either side.
Now that she was alone with her adopted daughter, a certain
coldness and hardness began to show itself in Lady Janet's
manner. The discovery that she had made on opening the
drawing-room door still hung on her mind. Julian had certainly
convinced her that she had misinterpreted what she had seen; but
he had convinced her against her will. She had found Mercy deeply
agitated; suspiciously silent. Julian might be innocent, she
admitted--there was no accounting for the vagaries of men. But
the case of Mercy was altogether different. Women did not find
themselves in the arms of men without knowing what they were
about. Acquitting Julian, Lady Janet declined to acquit Mercy.
"There is some secret understanding between them," thought the
old lady, "and she's to blame; the women always are!"
Mercy still waited to be spoken to; pale and quiet, silent and
submissive. Lady Janet--in a highly uncertain state of
temper--was obliged to begin.
"My dear!" she called out, sharply.
"Yes, Lady Janet."
"How much longer are you going to sit there with your mouth shut
up and your eyes on the carpet? Have you no opinion to offer on
this alarming state of things? You heard what the man said to
Julian--I saw you listening. Are you horribly frightened?"
"No, Lady Janet."
"Not even nervous?"
"No, Lady Janet."
"Ha! I should hardly have given you credit for so much courage
after my experience of you a week ago. I congratulate you on your
"Thank you, Lady Janet."
"I am not so composed as you are. We were an excitable set in
_my_ youth--and I haven't got the better of it yet. I feel
nervous. Do you hear? I feel nervous."
"I am sorry, Lady Janet."
"You are very good. Do you know what I am going to do?"
"No, Lady Janet."
"I am going to summon the household. When I say the household, I
mean the men; the women are no use. I am afraid I fail to attract
"You have my best attention, Lady Janet."
"You are very good again. I said the women were of no use."
"Yes, Lady Janet."
"I mean to place a man-servant on guard at every entrance to the
house. I am going to do it at once. Will you come with me?"
"Can I be of any use if I go with your ladyship?"
"You can't be of the slightest use. I give the orders in this
house--not you. I had quite another motive in asking you to come
with me. I am more considerate of you than you seem to think--I
don't like leaving you here by yourself. Do you understand?
"I am much obliged to your ladyship. I don't mind being left here
"You don't mind? I never heard of such heroism in my life--out of
a novel! Suppose that crazy wretch should find her way in here?"
"She would not frighten me this time as she frightened me
"Not too fast, my young lady! Suppose--Good heavens! now I think
of it, there is the conservatory. Suppose she should be hidden in
there? Julian is searching the grounds. Who is to search the
"With your ladyship's permission, _I_ will search the
"With your ladyship's permission."
"I can hardly believe my own ears! Well, 'Live and learn' is an
old proverb. I thought I knew your character. This _is_ a
"You forget, Lady Janet (if I may venture to say so), that the
circumstances are changed. She took me by surprise on the last
occasion; I am prepared for her
"Do you really feel as coolly as you speak?"
"Yes, Lady Janet."
"Have your own way, then. I shall do one thing, however, in case
of your having overestimated your own courage. I shall place one
of the men in the library. You will only have to ring for him if
anything happens. He will give the alarm--and I shall act
accordingly. I have my plan," said her Ladyship, comfortably
conscious of the card in her pocket. "Don't look as if you wanted
to know what it is. I have no intention of saying anything about
it--except that it will do. Once more, and for the last time--do
you stay here? or do you go with me?"
"I stay here."
She respectfully opened the library door for Lady Janet's
departure as she made that reply. Throughout the interview she
had been carefully and coldly deferential; she had not once
lifted her eyes to Lady Janet's face. The conviction in her that
a few hours more would, in all probability, see her dismissed
from the house, had of necessity fettered every word that she
spoke--had morally separated her already from the injured
mistress whose love she had won in disguise. Utterly incapable of
attributing the change in her young companion to the true motive,
Lady Janet left the room to summon her domestic garrison,
thoroughly puzzled and (as a necessary consequence of that
condition) thoroughly displeased.
Still holding the library door in her hand, Mercy stood watching
with a heavy heart the progress of her benefactress down the
length of the room on the way to the front hall beyond. She had
honestly loved and respected the warm-hearted, quick-tempered old
lady. A sharp pang of pain wrung her as she thought of the time
when even the chance utterance of her name would become an
unpardonable offense in Lady Janet's house.
But there was no shrinking in her now from the ordeal of the
confession. She was not only anxious--she was impatient for
Julian's return. Before she slept that night Julian's confidence
in her should be a confidence that she had deserved.
"Let her own the truth, without the base fear of discovery to
drive her to it. Let her do justice to the woman whom she has
wronged, while that woman is still powerless to expose her. Let
her sacrifice everything that she has gained by the fraud to the
sacred duty of atonement. If she can do that, then her repentance
has nobly revealed the noble nature that is in her; then she is a
woman to be trusted, respected, beloved." Those words were as
vividly present to her as if she still heard them falling from
his lips. Those other words which had followed them rang as
grandly as ever in her ears: "Rise, poor wounded heart!
Beautiful, purified soul, God's angels rejoice over you! Take
your place among the noblest of God's creatures!" Did the woman
live who could hear Julian Gray say that, and who could hesitate,
at any sacrifice, at any loss, to justify his belief in her?
"Oh!" she thought, longingly while her eyes followed Lady Janet
to the end of the library, "if your worst fears could only be
realized! If I could only see Grace Roseberry in this room, how
fearlessly I could meet her now!"
She closed the library door, while Lady Janet opened the other
door which led into the hall.
As she turned and looked back into the dining-room a cry of
astonishment escaped her.
There--as if in answer to the aspiration which was still in her
mind; there, established in triumph on the chair that she had
just left--sat Grace Roseberry, in sinister silence, waiting for
THE EVIL GENIUS.
RECOVERING from the first overpowering sensation of surprise,
Mercy rapidly advanced, eager to say her first penitent words.
Grace stopped her by a warning gesture of the hand. "No nearer to
me," she said, with a look of contemptuous command. "Stay where
Mercy paused. Grace's reception had startled her. She
instinctively took the chair nearest to her to support herself.
Grace raised a warning hand for the second time, and issued
another command: "I forbid you to be seated in my presence. You
have no right to be in this house at all. Remember, if you
please, who you are, and who I am."
The tone in which those words were spoken was an insult in
itself. Mercy suddenly lifted her head; the angry answer was on
her lips. She checked it, and submitted in silence. "I will be
worthy of Julian Gray's confidence in me," she thought, as she
stood patiently by the chair. "I will bear anything from the
woman whom I have wronged."
In silence the two faced each other; alone together, for the
first time since they had met in the French cottage. The contrast
between them was strange to see. Grace Roseberry, seated in her
chair, little and lean, with her dull white complexion, with her
hard, threatening face, with her shrunken figure clad in its
plain and poor black garments, looked like a being of a lower
sphere, compared with Mercy Merrick, standing erect in her rich
silken dress; her tall, shapely figure towering over the little
creature before her; her grand head bent in graceful submission;
gentle, patient, beautiful; a woman whom it was a privilege to
look at and a distinction to admire. If a stranger had been told
that those two had played their parts in a romance of real
life--that one of them was really connected by the ties of
relationship with Lady Janet Roy, and that the other had
successfully attempted to personate her--he would inevitably, if
it had been left to him to guess which was which, have picked out
Grace as the counterfeit and Mercy as the true woman.
Grace broke the silence. She had waited to open her lips until
she had eyed her conquered victim all over, with disdainfully
minute attention, from head to foot
"Stand there. I like to look at you," she said, speaking with a
spiteful relish of her own cruel words. "It's no use fainting
this time. You have not got Lady Janet Roy to bring you to. There
are no gentlemen here to-day to pity you and pick you up. Mercy
Merrick, I have got you at last. Thank God, my turn has come! You
can't escape me now!"
All the littleness of heart and mind which had first shown itself
in Grace at the meeting in the cottage, when Mercy told the sad
story of her life, now revealed itself once more. The woman who
in those past times. had felt no impulse to take a suffering and
a penitent fellow-creature by the hand was the same woman who
could feel no pity, who could spare no insolence of triumph, now.
Mercy's sweet voice answered her patiently, in low, pleading
"I have not avoided you," she said. "I would have gone to you of
my own accord if I had known that you were here. It is my
heartfelt wish to own that I have sinned against you, and to make
all the atonement that I can. I am too anxious to deserve your
forgiveness to have any fear of seeing you."
Conciliatory as the reply was, it was spoken with a simple and
modest dignity of manner which roused Grace Roseberry to fury.
"How dare you speak to me as if you were any equal?" she burst
out. "You stand there and answer me as if you had your right and
your place in this house. You audacious woman! _I_ have my right
and my place here--and what am I obliged to do? I am obliged to
hang about in the grounds, and fly from the sight of the
servants, and hide like a thief, and wait like a beggar, and all
for what? For the chance of having a word with _you_. Yes! you,
madam! with the air of the Refuge and the dirt of the streets on
Mercy's head sank lower; her hand trembled as it held by the back
of the chair.
It was hard to bear the reiterated insults heaped on her, but
Julian's influence still made itself felt. She answered as
patiently as ever.
"If it is your pleasure to use hard words to me," she said, "I
have no right to resent them."
"You have no right to anything!" Grace retorted. "You have no
right to the gown on your back. Look at yourself, and look at
Me!" Her eyes traveled with a tigerish stare over Mercy's costly
silk dress. "Who gave you that dress? who gave you those jewels?
I know! Lady Janet gave them to Grace Roseberry. Are _you_ Grace
Roseberry? That dress is mine. Take off your bracelets and your
brooch. They were meant for me."
"You may soon have the m, Miss Roseberry. They will not be in my
possession many hours longer."
"What do you mean?"
"However badly you may use me, it is my duty to undo the harm
that I have done. I am bound to do you justice--I am determined
to confess the truth."
Grace smiled scornfully.
"You confess!" she said. "Do you think I am fool enough to
believe that? You are one shameful brazen lie from head to foot!
Are _you_ the woman to give up your silks and your jewels, and
your position in this house, and to go back to the Refuge of your
own accord? Not you-- not you!"
A first faint flush of color showed itself, stealing slowly over
Mercy's face; but she still held resolutely by the good influence
which Julian had left behind him. She could still say to herself,
"Anything rather than disappoint Julian Gray." Sustained by the
courage which _he_ had called to life in her, she submitted to
her martyrdom as bravely as ever. But there was an ominous change
in her now: she could only submit in silence; she could no longer
trust herself to answer.
The mute endurance in her face additionally exasperated Grace
"_You_ won't confess," she went on. "You have had a week to
confess in, and you have not done it yet. No, no! you are of the
sort that cheat and lie to the last. I am glad of it; I shall
have the joy of exposing you myself before the whole house. I
shall be the blessed means of casting you back on the streets.
Oh! it will be almost worth all I have gone through to see you
with a policeman's hand on your arm, and the mob pointing at you
and mocking you on your way to jail!"
This time the sting struck deep; the outrage was beyond
endurance. Mercy gave the woman who had again and again
deliberately insulted her a first warning.
"Miss Roseberry," she said, "I have borne without a murmur the
bitterest words you could say to me. Spare me any more insults.
Indeed, indeed, I am eager to restore you to your just rights.
With my whole heart I say it to you--I am resolved to confess
She spoke with trembling earnestness of tone. Grace listened with
a hard smile of incredulity and a hard look of contempt.
"You are not far from the bell," she said; "ring it."
Mercy looked at her in speechless surprise.
"You are a perfect picture of repentance--you are dying to own
the truth," pursued the other, satirically. "Own it before
everybody, and own it at once. Call in Lady Janet--call in Mr.
Gray and Mr. Holmcroft--call in the servants. Go down on your
knees and acknowledge yourself an impostor before them all. Then
I will believe you--not before."
"Don't, don't turn me against you!" cried Mercy, entreatingly.
"What do I care whether you are against me or not?"
"Don't--for your own sake, don't go on provoking me much longer!"
"For my own sake? You insolent creature! Do you mean to threaten
With a last desperate effort, her heart beating faster and
faster, the blood burning hotter and hotter in her cheeks, Mercy
still controlled herself.
"Have some compassion on me!" she pleaded. "Badly as I have
behaved to you, I am still a woman like yourself. I can't face
the shame of acknowledging what I have done before the whole
house. Lady Janet treats me like a daughter; Mr. Holmcroft has
engaged himself to marry me. I can't tell Lady Janet and Mr.
Holmcroft to their faces that I have cheated them out of their
love. But they shall know it, for all that. I can, and will,
before I rest to-night, tell the whole truth to Mr. Julian Gray."
Grace burst out laughing. "Aha!" she exclaimed, with a cynical
outburst of gayety. "Now we have come to it at last!"
"Take care!" said Mercy. "Take care!"
"Mr. Julian Gray! I was behind the billiard-room door--I saw you
coax Mr. Julian Gray to come in! confession loses all its
horrors, and becomes quite a luxury, with Mr. Julian Gray!"
"No more, Miss Roseberry! no more! For God's sake, don't put me
beside myself! You have tortured me enough already."
"You haven't been on the streets for nothing. You are a woman
with resources; you know the value of having two strings to your
bow. If Mr. Holmcroft fails you, you have got Mr. Julian Gray.
Ah! you sicken me. _I'll_ see that Mr. Holmcroft's eyes are
opened; he shall know what a woman he might have married but for
She checked herself; the next refinement of insult remained
suspended on her lips.
The woman whom she had outraged suddenly advanced on her. Her
eyes, staring helplessly upward, saw Mercy Merrick's face, white
with the terrible anger which drives the blood back on the heart,
bending threateningly over her.
"'You will see that Mr. Holmcroft's eyes are opened,'" Mercy
slowly repeated; "'he shall know what a woman he might have
married but for you!'"
She paused, and followed those words by a question which struck a
creeping terror through Grace Roseberry, from the hair of her
head to the soles of her feet:
"_Who are you?_"
The suppressed fury of look and tone which accompanied that
question told, as no violence could have told it, that the limits
of Mercy's endurance had been found at last. In the guardian
angel's absence the evil genius had done its evil work. The
better nature which Julian Gray had brought to life sank,
poisoned by the vile venom of a womanly spiteful tongue. An easy
and a terrible means of avenging the outrages heaped on her was
within Mercy's reach, if she chose to take it. In the frenzy of
her indignation she never hesitated--she took it.
"Who are you?" she asked for the second time.
Grace roused herself and attempted to speak. Mercy stopped her
with a scornful gesture of her hand.
"I remember!" she went on, with the same fiercely suppressed
rage. "You are the madwoman from the German hospital who came
here a week ago. I am not afraid of you this time. Sit down and
rest yourself, Mercy Merrick "
Deliberately giving her that name to her face, Mercy turned from
her and took the chair which Grace had forbidden her to occupy
when the interview began. Grace started to her feet.
"What does this mean?" she asked.
"It means," answered Mercy, contemptuously, "that I recall every
word I said to you just now. It means that I am resolved to keep
my place in this house."
"Are you out of your senses?"
"You are not far from the bell. Ring it. Do what you asked _me_
to do. Call in the whole household, and ask them which of us is
mad--you or I."
"Mercy Merrick! you shall repent this to the last hour of your
Mercy rose again, and fixed her flashing eyes on the woman who
still defied her.
"I have had enough of you!" she said. "Leave the house while you
can leave it. Stay here, and I will send for Lady Janet Roy."
"You can't send for her! You daren't send for her!"
"I can and I dare. You have not a shadow of a proof against me. I
have got the papers; I am in possession of the place; I have
established myself in Lady Janet's confidence. I mean to deserve
your opinion of me--I will keep my dresses and my jewels and my
position in the house. I deny that I have done wrong. Society has
used me cruelly; I owe nothing to Society. I have a right to take
any advantage of it if I can. I deny that I have injured you. How
was I to know that you would come to life again? Have I degraded
your name and your character? I have done honor to both. I have
won everybody's liking and everybody's respect. Do you think Lady
Janet would have loved you as she loves me? Not she! I tell you
to your face I have filled the false position more creditably
than you could have filled the true one, and I mean to keep it. I
won't give up your name; I won't restore your character! Do your
worst; I defy you!"
She poured out those reckless words in one headlong flow which
defied interruption. There was no answering her until she was too
breathless to say more. Grace seized her opportunity the moment
it was within her reach.
"You defy me?" she returned, resolutely. "You won't defy me long.
I have written to Canada. My friends will speak for me."
"What of it, if they do? Your friends are strangers here. I am
Lady Janet's adopted daughter. Do you think she will believe your
friends? She will believe me. She will burn their letters if they
write. She will forbid th e house to them if they come. I shall
be Mrs. Horace Holmcroft in a week's time. Who can shake _my_
position? Who can injure Me?"
"Wait a little. You forget the matron at the Refuge."
"Find her, if you can. I never told you her name. I never told
you where the Refuge was."
"I will advertise your name, and find the matron in that way."
"Advertise in every newspaper in London. Do you think I gave a
stranger like you the name I really bore in the Refuge? I gave
you the name I assumed when I left England. No such person as
Mercy Merrick is known to the matron. No such person is known to
Mr. Holmcroft. He saw me at the French cottage while you were
senseless on the bed. I had my gray cloak on; neither he nor any
of them saw me in my nurse's dress. Inquiries have been made
about me on the Continent--and (I happen to know from the person
who made them) with no result. I am safe in your place; I am
known by your name. I am Grace Roseberry; and you are Mercy
Merrick. Disprove it, if you can!"
Summing up the unassailable security of her false position in
those closing words, Mercy pointed significantly to the
"You were hiding there, by your own confession," she said. "You
know your way out by that door. Will you leave the room?"
"I won't stir a step!"
Mercy walked to a side-table, and struck the bell placed on it.
At the same moment the billiard-room door opened. Julian Gray
appeared--returning from his unsuccessful search in the grounds.
He had barely crossed the threshold before the library door was
thrown open next by the servant posted in the room. The man drew
back respectfully, and gave admission to Lady Janet Roy. She was
followed by Horace Holmcroft with his mother's wedding present to
Mercy in his hand.
THE POLICEMAN IN PLAIN CLOTHES.
JULIAN looked round the room, and stopped at the door which he
had just opened.
His eyes rested first on Mercy, next on Grace.
The disturbed faces of both the women told him but too plainly
that the disaster which he had dreaded had actually happened.
They had met without any third person to interfere between them.
To what extremities the hostile interview might have led it was
impossible for him to guess. In his aunt's presence he could only
wait his opportunity of speaking to Mercy, and be ready to
interpose if anything was ignorantly done which might give just
cause of offense to Grace.
Lady Janet's course of action on entering the dining-room was in
perfect harmony with Lady Janet's character.
Instantly discovering the intruder, she looked sharply at Mercy.
"What did I tell you?" she asked. "Are you frightened? No! not in
the least frightened! Wonderful!" She turned to the servant.
"Wait in the library; I may want you again." She looked at
Julian. "Leave it all to me; I can manage it." She made a sign to
Horace. "Stay where you are, and hold your tongue." Having now
said all that was necessary to every one else, she advanced to
the part of the room in which Grace was standing, with lowering
brows and firmly shut lips, defiant of everybody.
"I have no desire to offend you, or to act harshly toward you,"
her ladyship began, very quietly. "I only suggest that your
visits to my house cannot possibly lead to any satisfactory
result. I hope you will not oblige me to say any harder words
than these--I hope you will understand that I wish you to
The order of dismissal could hardly have been issued with more
humane consideration for the supposed mental infirmity of the
person to whom it was addressed. Grace instantly resisted it in
the plainest possible terms.
"In justice to my father's memory and in justice to myself," she
answered, "I insist on a hearing. I refuse to withdraw." She
deliberately took a chair and seated herself in the presence of
the mistress of the house.
Lady Janet waited a moment--steadily controlling her temper. In
the interval of silence Julian seized the opportunity of
remonstrating with Grace.
"Is this what you promised me?" he asked, gently. "You gave me
your word that you would not return to Mablethorpe House."
Before he could say more Lady Janet had got her temper under
command. She began her answer to Grace by pointing with a
peremptory forefinger to the library door.
"If you have not made up your mind to take my advice by the time
I have walked back to that door," she said, "I will put it out of
your power to set me at defiance. I am used to be obeyed, and I
will be obeyed. You force me to use hard words. I warn you before
it is too late. Go!"
She returned slowly toward the library. Julian attempted to
interfere with another word of remonstrance. His aunt stopped him
by a gesture which said, plainly, "I insist on acting for
myself." He looked next at Mercy. Would she remain passive? Yes.
She never lifted her head; she never moved from the place in
which she was standing apart from the rest. Horace himself tried
to attract her attention, and tried in vain.
Arrived at the library door, Lady Janet looked over her shoulder
at the little immovable black figure in the chair.
"Will you go?" she asked, for the last time.
Grace started up angrily from her seat, and fixed her viperish
eyes on Mercy.
"I won't be turned out of your ladyship's house in the presence
of that impostor," she said. "I may yield to force, but I will
yield to nothing else. I insist on my right to the place that she
has stolen from me. It's no use scolding me," she added, turning
doggedly to Julian. "As long as that woman is here under my name
I can't and won't keep away from the house. I warn her, in your
presence, that I have written to my friends in Canada! I dare her
before you all to deny that she is the outcast and adventuress,
The challenge forced Mercy to take part in the proceedings in her
own defense. She had pledged herself to meet and defy Grace
Roseberry on her own ground. She attempted to speak--Horace
"You degrade yourself if you answer her," he said. "Take my arm,
and let us leave the room."
"Yes! Take her out!" cried Grace. "She may well be ashamed to
face an honest woman. It's her place to leave the room--not
Mercy drew her hand out of Horace's arm. "I decline to leave the
room," she said, quietly.
Horace still tried to persuade her to withdraw. "I can't bear to
hear you insulted," he rejoined. "The woman offends me, though I
know she is not responsible for what she says."
"Nobody's endurance will be tried much longer," said Lady Janet.
She glanced at Julian, and taking from her pocket the card which
he had given to her, opened the library door.
"Go to the police station," she said to the servant in an
undertone, "and give that card to the inspector on duty. Tell him
there is not a moment to lose."
"Stop!" said Julian, before his aunt could close the door again.
"Stop?" repeated Lady Janet, sharply. "I have given the man his
orders. What do you mean?"
"Before you send the card I wish to say a word in private to this
lady," replied Julian, indicating Grace. "When that is done," he
continued, approaching Mercy, and pointedly addressing himself to
her, "I shall have a request to make--I shall ask you to give me
an opportunity of speaking to you without interruption."
His tone pointed the allusion. Mercy shrank from looking at him.
The signs of painful agitation began to show themselves in her
shifting color and her uneasy silence. Roused by Julian's
significantly distant reference to what had passed between them,
her better impulses were struggling already to recover their
influence over her. She might, at that critical moment, have
yielded to the promptings of her own nobler nature--she might
have risen superior to the galling remembrance of the insults
that had been heaped upon her--if Grace's malice had not seen in
her hesitation a means of referring offensively once again to her
interview with Julian Gray.
"Pray don't think twice about trusting him alone with me," she
said, with a sardonic affectation of politeness. "_I_ am not
interested in making a conquest of Mr. Julian Gray."
The jealous distrust in Horace (already awakened by Julian's
request) now attempted to assert itself openl y. Before he could
speak, Mercy's indignation had dictated Mercy's answer.
"I am much obliged to you, Mr. Gray," she said, addressing Julian
(but still not raising her eyes to his). "I have nothing more to
say. There is no need for me to trouble you again."
In those rash words she recalled the confession to which she
stood pledged. In those rash words she committed herself to
keeping the position that she had usurped, in the face of the
woman whom she had deprived of it!
Horace was silenced, but not satisfied. He saw Julian's eyes
fixed in sad and searching attention on Mercy's face while she
was speaking. He heard Julian sigh to himself when she had done.
He observed Julian--after a moment's serious consideration, and a
moment's glance backward at the stranger in the poor black
clothes--lift his head with the air of a man who had taken a
"Bring me that card directly," he said to the servant. His tone
announced that he was not to be trifled with. The man obeyed.
Without answering Lady Janet--who still peremptorily insisted on
her right to act for herself--Julian took the pencil from his
pocketbook and added his signature to the writing already
inscribed on the card. When he had handed it back to the servant
he made his apologies to his aunt.
"Pardon me for venturing to interfere," he said "There is a
serious reason for what I have done, which I will explain to you
at a fitter time. In the meanwhile I offer no further obstruction
to the course which you propose taking. On the contrary, I have
just assisted you in gaining the end that you have in view."
As he said that he held up the pencil with which he had signed
Lady Janet, naturally perplexed, and (with some reason, perhaps)
offended as well, made no answer. She waved her hand to the
servant, and sent him away with the card.
There was silence in the room. The eyes of all the persons
present turned more or less anxiously on Julian. Mercy was
vaguely surprised and alarmed. Horace, like Lady Janet, felt
offended, without clearly knowing why. Even Grace Roseberry
herself was subdued by her own presentiment of some coming
interference for which she was completely unprepared. Julian's
words and actions, from the moment when he had written on the
card, were involved in a mystery to which not one of the persons
round him held the clew.
The motive which had animated his conduct may, nevertheless, be
described in two words: Julian still held to his faith in the
inbred nobility of Mercy's nature.
He had inferred, with little difficulty, from the language which
Grace had used toward Mercy in his presence, that the injured
woman must have taken pitiless advantage of her position at the
interview which he had interrupted. Instead of appealing to
Mercy's sympathies and Mercy's sense of right--instead of
accepting the expression of her sincere contrition, and
encouraging her to make the completest and the speediest
atonement--Grace had evidently outraged and insulted her. As a
necessary result, her endurance had given way-- under her own
sense of intolerable severity and intolerable wrong.
The remedy for the mischief thus done was, as Julian had first
seen it, to speak privately with Grace, to soothe her by owning
that his opinion of the justice of her claims had undergone a
change in her favor, and then to persuade her, in her own
interests, to let him carry to Mercy such expressions of apology
and regret as might lead to a friendly understanding between
With those motives, he had made his request to be permitted to
speak separately to the one and the other. The scene that had
followed, the new insult offered by Grace, and the answer which
it had wrung from Mercy, had convinced him that no such
interference as he had contemplated would have the slightest
prospect of success.
The only remedy now left to try was the desperate remedy of
letting things take their course, and trusting implicitly to
Mercy's better nature for the result.
Let her see the police officer in plain clothes enter the room.
Let her understand clearly what the result of his interference
would be. Let her confront the alternative of consigning Grace
Roseberry to a mad-house or of confessing the truth--and what
would happen? If Julian's confidence in her was a confidence
soundly placed, she would nobly pardon the outrages that had been
heaped upon her, and she would do justice to the woman whom she
If, on the other hand, his belief in her was nothing better than
the blind belief of an infatuated man--if she faced the
alternative and persisted in asserting her assumed identity--what
Julian's faith in Mercy refused to let that darker side of the
question find a place in his thoughts. It rested entirely with
him to bring the officer into the house. He had prevented Lady
Janet from making any mischievous use of his card by sending to
the police station and warning them to attend to no message which
they might receive unless the card produced bore his signature.
Knowing the responsibility that he was taking on himself--knowing
that Mercy had made no confession to him to which it was possible
to appeal--he had signed his name without an instant's
hesitation: and there he stood now, looking at the woman whose
better nature he was determined to vindicate, the only calm
person in the room.
Horace's jealousy saw something suspiciously suggestive of a
private understanding in Julian's earnest attention and in
Mercy's downcast face. Having no excuse for open interference, he
made an effort to part them.
"You spoke just now," he said to Julian, "of wishing to say a
word in private to that person." (He pointed to Grace.) "Shall we
retire, or will you take her into the library?"
"I refuse to have anything to say to him," Grace burst out,
before Julian could answer. "I happen to know that he is the last
person to do me justice. He has been effectually hoodwinked. If I
speak to anybody privately, it ought to be to you. You have the
greatest interest of any of them in finding out the truth."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you want to marry an outcast from the streets?"
Horace took one step forward toward her. There was a look in his
face which plainly betrayed that he was capable of turning her
out of the house with his own hands. Lady Janet stopped him.
"You were right in suggesting just now that Grace had better
leave the room," she said. "Let us all three go. Julian will
remain here and give the man his directions when he arrives.
No. By a strange contradiction it was Horace himself who now
interfered to prevent Mercy from leaving the room. In the heat of
his indignation he lost all sense of his own dignity; he
descended to the level of a woman whose intellect he believed to
be deranged. To the surprise of every one present, he stepped
back and took from the table a jewel-case which he had placed
there when he came into the room. It was the wedding present from
his mother which he had brought to his betrothed wife. His
outraged self-esteem seized the opportunity of vindicating Mercy
by a public bestowal of the gift.
"Wait!" he called out, sternly. "That wretch shall have her
answer. She has sense enough to see and sense enough to hear. Let
her see and hear!"
He opened the jewel-case, and took from it a magnificent pearl
necklace in an antique setting.
"Grace," he said, with his highest distinction of manner, "my
mother sends you her love and her congratulations on our
approaching marriage. She begs you to accept, as part of your
bridal dress, these pearls. She was married in them herself. They
have been in our family for centuries. As one of the family,
honored and beloved, my mother offers them to my wife."
He lifted the necklace to clasp it round Mercy's neck.
Julian watched her in breathless suspense. Would she sustain the
ordeal through which Horace had innocently condemned her to pass?
Yes! In the insolent presence of Grace Roseberry, what was there
now that she could _not_ sustain? Her pride was in arms. Her
lovely eyes lighted up as only a woman's eyes _can_ light up when
they see jewelry. Her grand head bent gracefully to receive the
necklace. Her face w armed into color; her beauty rallied its
charms. Her triumph over Grace Roseberry was complete! Julian's
head sank. For one sad moment he secretly asked himself the
question: "Have I been mistaken in her?"
Horace arrayed her in the pearls.
"Your husband puts these pearls on your neck, love," he said,
proudly, and paused to look at her. "Now," he added, with a
contemptuous backward glance at Grace, "we may go into the
library. She has seen, and she has heard."
He believed that he had silenced her. He had simply furnished her
sharp tongue with a new sting.
"_You_ will hear, and _you_ will see, when my proofs come from
Canada," she retorted. "You will hear that your wife has stolen
my name and my character! You will see your wife dismissed from
Mercy turned on her with an uncontrollable outburst of passion.
"You are mad!" she cried.
Lady Janet caught the electric infection of anger in the air of
the room. She, too, turned on Grace. She, too, said it:
"You are mad!"
Horace followed Lady Janet. _He_ was beside himself. _He_ fixed
his pitiless eyes on Grace, and echoed the contagious words:
"You are mad!"
She was silenced, she was daunted at last. The treble accusation
revealed to her, for the first time, the frightful suspicion to
which she had exposed herself. She shrank back with a low cry of
horror, and struck against a chair. She would have fallen if
Julian had not sprung forward and caught her.
Lady Janet led the way into the library. She opened the door--
started--and suddenly stepped aside, so as to leave the entrance
A man appeared in the open doorway.
He was not a gentleman; he was not a workman; he was not a
servant. He was vilely dressed, in glossy black broadcloth. His
frockcoat hung on him instead of fitting him. His waistcoat was
too short and too tight over the chest. His trousers were a pair
of shapeless black bags. His gloves were too large for him. His
highly-polished boots creaked detestably whenever he moved. He
had odiously watchful eyes--eyes that looked skilled in peeping
through key-holes. His large ears, set forward like the ears of a
monkey, pleaded guilty to meanly listening behind other people's
doors. His manner was quietly confidential when he spoke,
impenetrably self-possessed when he was silent. A lurking air of
secret service enveloped the fellow, like an atmosphere of his
own, from head to foot. He looked all round the magnificent room
without betraying either surprise or admiration. He closely
investigated every person in it with one glance of his cunningly
watchful eyes. Making his bow to Lady Janet, he silently showed
her, as his introduction, the card that had summoned him. And
then he stood at ease, self-revealed in his own sinister
identity--a police officer in plain clothes.
Nobody spoke to him. Everybody shrank inwardly as if a reptile
had crawled into the room.
He looked backward and forward, perfectly unembarrassed, between
Julian and Horace.
"Is Mr. Julian Gray here?" he asked.
Julian led Grace to a seat. Her eyes were fixed on the man. She
trembled--she whispered, "Who is he?" Julian spoke to the police
officer without answering her.
"Wait there," he said, pointing to a chair in the most distant
corner of the room. "I will speak to you directly."
The man advanced to the chair, marching to the discord of his
creaking boots. He privately valued the carpet at so much a yard
as he walked over it. He privately valued the chair at so much
the dozen as he sat down on it. He was quite at his ease: it was
no matter to him whether he waited and did nothing, or whether he
pried into the private character of every one in the room, as
long as he was paid for it.
Even Lady Janet's resolution to act for herself was not proof
against the appearance of the policeman in plain clothes. She
left it to her nephew to take the lead. Julian glanced at Mercy
before he stirred further in the matter. He alone knew that the
end rested now not with him but with her.
She felt his eye on her while her own eyes were looking at the
man. She turned her head --hesitated--and suddenly approached
Julian. Like Grace Roseberry, she was trembling. Like Grace
Roseberry, she whispered, "Who is he?"
Julian told her plainly who he was.
"Why is he here?"
"Can't you guess?"
Horace left Lady Janet, and joined Mercy and Julian--impatient of
the private colloquy between them.
"Am I in the way?" he inquired.
Julian drew back a little, understanding Horace perfectly. He
looked round at Grace. Nearly the whole length of the spacious
room divided them from the place in which she was sitting. She
had never moved since he had placed her in a chair. The direst of
all terrors was in possession of her--terror of the unknown.
There was no fear of her interfering, and no fear of her hearing
what they said so long as they were careful to speak in guarded
tones. Julian set the example by lowering his voice.
"Ask Horace why the police officer is here?" he said to Mercy.
She put the question directly. "Why is he here?"
Horace looked across the room at Grace, and answered, "He is here
to relieve us of that woman."
"Do you mean that he will take her away?"
"Where will he take her to?"
"To the police station."
Mercy started, and looked at Julian. He was still watching the
slightest changes in her face. She looked back again at Horace.
"To the police station!" she repeated. "What for?"
"How can you ask the question?" said Horace, irritably. "To be
placed under restraint, of course."
"Do you mean prison?"
"I mean an asylum."
Again Mercy turned to Julian. There was horror now, as well as
surprise, in her face. "Oh!" she said to him, "Horace is surely
wrong? It can't be?"
Julian left it to Horace to answer. Every facility in him seemed
to be still absorbed in watching Mercy's face. She was compelled
to address herself to Horace once more.
"What sort of asylum?" she asked. "You don't surely mean a
"I do," he rejoined. "The workhouse first, perhaps--and then the
madhouse. What is there to surprise you in that? You yourself
told her to her face she was mad. Good Heavens! how pale you are!
What is the matter?"
She turned to Julian for the third time. The terrible alternative
that was offered to her had showed itself at last, without
reserve or disguise. Restore the identity that you have stolen,
or shut her up in a madhouse--it rests with you to choose! In
that form the situation shaped itself in her mind. She chose on
the instant. Before she opened her lips the higher nature in her
spoke to Julian, in her eyes. The steady inner light that he had
seen in them once already shone in them again, brighter and purer
than before. The conscience that he had fortified, the soul that
he had saved, looked at him and said, Doubt us no more!
"Send that man out of the house."
Those were her first words. She spoke (pointing to the police
officer) in clear, ringing, resolute tones, audible in the
remotest corner of the room.
Julian's hand stole unobserved to hers, and told her, in its
momentary pressure, to count on his brotherly sympathy and help.
All the other persons in the room looked at her in speechless
surprise. Grace rose from her chair. Even the man in plain
clothes started to his feet. Lady Janet (hurriedly joining
Horace, and fully sharing his perplexity and alarm) took Mercy
impulsively by the arm, and shook it, as if to rouse her to a
sense of what she was doing. Mercy held firm; Mercy resolutely
repeated what she had said: "Send that man out of the house."
Lady Janet lost all her patience with her. "What has come to
you?" she asked, sternly. "Do you know what you are saying? The
man is here in your interest, as well as in mine; the man is here
to spare you, as well as me, further annoyance and insult. And
you insist-- insist, in my presence--on his being sent away! What
does it mean?"
"You shall know what it means, Lady Janet, in half an hour. I
don't insist--I only reiterate my entreaty. Let the man be sent
Julian stepped aside (with his aunt's eyes angrily following him)
and spoke to the police officer. "Go back to the station, " he
said, "and wait there till you hear from me."
The meanly vigilant eyes of the man in plain clothes traveled
sidelong from Julian to Mercy, and valued her beauty as they had
valued the carpet and the chairs. "The old story," he thought.
"The nice-looking woman is always at the bottom of it; and,
sooner or later, the nice-looking woman has her way." He marched
back across the room, to the discord of his own creaking boots,
bowed, with a villainous smile which put the worst construction
on everything, and vanished through the library door.
Lady Janet's high breeding restrained her from saying anything
until the police officer was out of hearing. Then, and not till
then, she appealed to Julian.
"I presume you are in the secret of this?" she said. "I suppose
you have some reason for setting my authority at defiance in my
"I have never yet failed to respect your ladyship," Julian
answered. "Before long you will know that I am not failing in
respect toward you now."
Lady Janet looked across the room. Grace was listening eagerly,
conscious that events had taken some mysterious turn in her favor
within the last minute.
"Is it part of your new arrangement of my affairs," her ladyship
continued, "that this person is to remain in the house?"
The terror that had daunted Grace had not lost all hold of her
yet. She left it to Julian to reply. Before he could speak Mercy
crossed the room and whispered to her, "Give me time to confess
it in writing. I can't own it before them--with this round my
neck." She pointed to the necklace. Grace cast a threatening
glance at her, and suddenly looked away again in silence.
Mercy answered Lady Janet's question. "I beg your ladyship to
permit her to remain until the half hour is over," she said. "My
request will have explained itself by that time."
Lady Janet raised no further obstacles. For something in Mercy's
face, or in Mercy's tone, seemed to have silenced her, as it had
silenced Grace. Horace was the next who spoke. In tones of
suppressed rage and suspicion he addressed himself to Mercy,
standing fronting him by Julian's side.
"Am I included," he asked, "in the arrangement which engages you
to explain your extraordinary conduct in half an hour?"
_His_ hand had placed his mother's wedding present round Mercy's
neck. A sharp pang wrung her as she looked at Horace, and saw how
deeply she had already distressed and offended him. The tears
rose in her eyes; she humbly and faintly answered him.
"If you please," was all she could say, before the cruel swelling
at her heart rose and silenced her.
Horace's sense of injury refused to be soothed by such simple
submission as this.
"I dislike mysteries and innuendoes," he went on, harshly. "In my
family circle we are accustomed to meet each other frankly. Why
am I to wait half an hour for an explanation which might be given
now? What am I to wait for?"
Lady Janet recovered herself as Horace spoke.
"I entirely agree with you," she said. "I ask, too, what are we
to wait for?"
Even Julian's self-possession failed him when his aunt repeated
that cruelly plain question. How would Mercy answer it? Would her
courage still hold out?
"You have asked me what you are to wait for," she said to Horace,
quietly and firmly. "Wait to hear something more of Mercy
Lady Janet listened with a look of weary disgust.
"Don't return to _that!_" she said. "We know enough about Mercy
"Pardon me--your ladyship does _not_ know. I am the only person
who can inform you."
She bent her head respectfully.
"I have begged you, Lady Janet, to give me half an hour," she
went on. "In half an hour I solemnly engage myself to produce
Mercy Merrick in this room. Lady Janet Roy, Mr. Horace Holmcroft,
you are to wait for that."
Steadily pledging herself in those terms to make her confession,
she unclasped the pearls from her neck, put them away in their
cases and placed it in Horace's hand. "Keep it," she said, with a
momentary faltering in her voice, "until we meet again."
Horace took the case in silence; he looked and acted like a man
whose mind was paralyzed by surprise. His hand moved
mechanically. His eyes followed Mercy with a vacant, questioning
look. Lady Janet seemed, in her different way, to share the
strange oppression that had fallen on him. A vague sense of dread
and distress hung like a cloud over her mind. At that memorable
moment she felt her age, she looked her age, as she had never
felt it or looked it yet.
"Have I your ladyship's leave," said Mercy, respectfully, "to go
to my room?"
Lady Janet mutely granted the request. Mercy's last look, before
she went out, was a look at Grace. "Are you satisfied now?" the
grand gray eyes seemed to say, mournfully. Grace turned her head
aside, with a quick, petulant action. Even her narrow nature
opened for a moment unwillingly, and let pity in a little way, in
spite of itself.
Mercy's parting words recommended Grace to Julian's care:
"You will see that she is allowed a room to wait in? You will
warn her yourself when the half hour has expired?"
Julian opened the library door for her.
"Well done! Nobly done!" he whispered. "All my sympathy is with
you--all my help is yours."
Her eyes looked at him, and thanked him, through her gathering
tears. His own eyes were dimmed. She passed quietly down the
room, and was lost to him before he had shut the door again.
THE FOOTSTEP IN THE CORRIDOR.
MERCY was alone.
She had secured one half hour of retirement in her own room,
designing to devote that interval to the writing of her
confession, in the form of a letter addressed to Julian Gray.
No recent change in her position had, as yet, mitigated her
horror of acknowledging to Horace and to Lady Janet that she had
won her way to their hearts in disguise. Through Julian only
could she say the words which were to establish Grace Roseberry
in her right position in the house.
How was her confession to be addressed to him? In writing? or by
word of mouth?
After all that had happened, from the time when Lady Janet's
appearance had interrupted them, she would have felt relief
rather than embarrassment in personally opening her heart to the
man who had so delicately understood her, who had so faithfully
befriended her in her sorest need. But the repeated betrayals of
Horace's jealous suspicion of Julian warned her that she would
only be surrounding herself with new difficulties, and be placing
Julian in a position of painful embarrassment, if she admitted
him to a private interview while Horace was in the house.
The one course left to take was the course that she had adopted.
Determining to address the narrative of the Fraud to Julian in
the form of a letter, she arranged to add, at the close, certain
instructions, pointing out to him the line of conduct which she
wished him to pursue,
These instructions contemplated the communication of her letter
to Lady Janet and to Horace in the library, while
Mercy--self-confessed as the missing woman whom she had pledged
herself to produce--awaited in the adjoining room whatever
sentence it pleased them to pronounce on her. Her resolution not
to screen herself behind Julian from any consequences which might
follow the confession had taken root in her mind from the moment
when Horace had harshly asked her (and when Lady Janet had joined
him in asking) why she delayed her explanation, and what she was
keeping them waiting for. Out of the very pain which those
questions inflicted, the idea of waiting her sentence in her own
person in one room, while her letter to Julian was speaking for
her in another, had sprung to life. "Let them break my heart if
they like," she had thought to herself, in the self-abasement of
that bitter moment; "it will be no more than I have deserved."
She locked her door and opened her writing-desk. Knowing what she
had to do, she tried to collect herself and do it.
The effort was in vain. Those persons who study writing as an art
are probably the only persons who can measure the vast distance
which separates a conception as it exists in the mind from the
reduction of that conception to form and shape in words. The
heavy stress of agitation that had been
laid on Mercy for hours together had utterly unfitted her for
the delicate and difficult process of arranging the events of a
narrative in their due sequence and their due proportion toward
each other. Again and again she tried to begin her letter, and
again and again she was baffled by the same hopeless confusion of
ideas. She gave up the struggle in despair.
A sense of sinking at her heart, a weight of hysterical
oppression on her bosom, warned her not to leave herself
unoccupied, a prey to morbid self-investigation and imaginary
She turned instinctively, for a temporary employment of some
kind, to the consideration of her own future. Here there were no
intricacies or entanglements. The prospect began and ended with
her return to the Refuge, if the matron would receive her. She
did no injustice to Julian Gray; that great heart would feel for
her, that kind hand would be held out to her, she knew. But what
would happen if she thoughtlessly accepted all that his sympathy
might offer? Scandal would point to her beauty and to his youth,
and would place its own vile interpretation on the purest
friendship that could exist between them. And _he_ would be the
sufferer, for _he_ had a character--a clergyman's character--to
lose. No. For his sake, out of gratitude to _him_, the farewell
to Mablethorpe House must be also the farewell to Julian Gray.
The precious minutes were passing. She resolved to write to the
matron and ask if she might hope to be forgiven and employed at
the Refuge again. Occupation over the letter that was easy to
write might have its fortifying effect on her mind, and might
pave the way for resuming the letter that was hard to write. She
waited a moment at the window, thinking of the past life to which
she was soon to return, before she took up the pen again.
Her window looked eastward. The dusky glare of lighted London met
her as her eyes rested on the sky. It seemed to beckon her back
to the horror of the cruel streets--to point her way mockingly to
the bridges over the black river--to lure her to the top of the
parapet, and the dreadful leap into God's arms, or into
annihilation--who knew which?
She turned, shuddering, from the window. "Will it end in that
way," she asked herself, "if the matron says No?"
She began her letter.
"DEAR MADAM--So long a time has passed since you heard from me
that I almost shrink from writing to you. I am afraid you have
already given me up in your own mind as a hard-hearted,
"I have been leading a false life; I have not been fit to write
to you before to-day. Now, when I am doing what I can to atone to
those whom I have injured--now, when I repent with my whole
heart--may I ask leave to return to the friend who has borne with
me and helped me through many miserable years? Oh, madam, do not
cast me off! I have no one to turn to but you.
"Will you let me own everything to you? Will you forgive me when
you know what I have done? Will you take me back into the Refuge,
if you have any employment for me by which I may earn my shelter
and my bread?
"Before the night comes I must leave the house from which I am
now writing. I have nowhere to go to. The little money, the few
valuable possessions I have, must be left behind me: they have
been obtained under false pretenses; they are not mine. No more
forlorn creature than I am lives at this moment. You are a
Christian woman. Not for my sake--for Christ's sake--pity me and
take me back.
"I am a good nurse, as you know, and I am a quick worker with my
needle. In one way or the other can you not find occupation for
"I could also teach, in a very unpretending way. But that is
useless. Who would trust their children to a woman without a
character? There is no hope for me in this direction. And yet I
am so fond of children! I think I could be, not happy again,
perhaps, but content with my lot, if I could be associated with
them in some way. Are there not charitable societies which are
trying to help and protect destitute children wandering about the
streets? I think of my own wretched childhood--and oh! I should
so like to be employed in saving other children from ending as I
have ended. I could work, for such an object as that, from
morning to night, and never feel weary. All my heart would be in
it; and I should have this advantage over happy and prosperous
women--I should have nothing else to think of. Surely they might
trust me with the poor little starving wanderers of the
streets--if you said a word for me? If I am asking too much,
please forgive me. I am so wretched, madam--so lonely and so
weary of my life.
"There is only one thing more. My time here is very short. Will
you please reply to this letter (to say yes or no) by telegram?
"The name by which you know me is not the name by which I have
been known here. I must beg you to address the telegram to 'The
Reverend Julian Gray, Mablethorpe House, Kensington.' He is here,
and he will show it to me. No words of mine can describe what I
owe to him. He has never despaired of me --he has saved me from
myself. God bless and reward the kindest, truest, best man I have
"I have no more to say, except to ask you to excuse this long
letter, and to believe me your grateful servant, ----."
She signed and inclosed the letter, and wrote the address. Then,
for the first time, an obstacle which she ought to have seen
before showed itself, standing straight in her way.
There was no time to forward her letter in the ordinary manner by
post. It must be taken to its destination by a private messenger.
Lady Janet's servants had hitherto been, one and all, at her
disposal. Could she presume to employ them on her own affairs,
when she might be dismissed from the house, a disgraced woman, in
half an hour's time? Of the two alternatives it seemed better to
take her chance, and present herself at the Refuge without asking
While she was still considering the question she was startled by
a knock at her door. On opening it she admitted Lady Janet's
maid, with a morsel of folded note-paper in her hand.
"From my lady, miss," said the woman, giving her the note. "There
is no answer."
Mercy stopped her as she was about to leave the room. The
appearance of the maid suggested an inquiry to her. She asked if
any of the servants were likely to be going into town that
"Yes, miss. One of the grooms is going on horseback, with a
message to her ladyship's coach-maker."
The Refuge was close by the coach-maker's place of business.
Under the circumstances, Mercy was emboldened to make use of the
man. It was a pardonable liberty to employ his services now.
"Will you kindly give the groom that letter for me?" she said.
"It will not take him out of his way. He has only to deliver
The woman willingly complied with the request. Left once more by
herself, Mercy looked at the little note which had been placed in