Part 5 out of 7
It was the first time that her benefactress had employed this
formal method of communicating with her when they were both in
the house. What did such a departure from established habits
mean? Had she received her notice of dismissal? Had Lady Janet's
quick intelligence found its way already to a suspicion of the
truth? Mercy's nerves were unstrung. She trembled pitiably as she
opened the folded note.
It began without a form of address, and it ended without a
signature. Thus it ran:
"I must request you to delay for a little while the explanation
which you have promised me. At my age, painful surprises are very
trying things. I must have time to compose myself, before I can
hear what you have to say. You shall not be kept waiting longer
than I can help. In the meanwhile everything will go on as usual.
My nephew Julian, and Horace Holmcroft, and the lady whom I found
in the dining-room, will, by my desire, remain in the house until
I am able to meet them, and to meet you, again."
There the note ended. To what conclusion did it point?
Had Lady Janet really guessed the truth? or had she only surmised
that her adopted daughter was connected in some discreditable
manner with the mystery of "Mercy Merrick"? The line in which she
referred to the intruder in the dining-room as "the lady" showed
very remarkably that her opinions had undergone a change in that
quarter. But was the phrase enough of itself to justify the
inference that she had actually anticipated the nature of Mercy's
confession? It was not easy to decide that doubt at the
moment--and it proved to be equally difficult to throw any light
on it at an aftertime. To the end of her life Lady Janet
resolutely refused to communicate to any one the conclusions
which she might have privately formed, the griefs which she might
have secretly stifled, on that memorable day.
Amid much, however, which was beset with uncertainty, one thing
at least was clear. The time at Mercy's disposal in her own room
had been indefinitely prolonged by Mercy's benefactress. Hours
might pass before the disclosure to which she stood committed
would be expected from her. In those hours she might surely
compose her mind sufficiently to be able to write her letter of
confession to Julian Gray.
Once more she placed the sheet of paper before her. Resting her
head on her hand as she sat at the table, she tried to trace her
way through the labyrinth of the past, beginning with the day
when she had met Grace Roseberry in the French cottage, and
ending with the day which had brought them face to face, for the
second time, in the dining-room at Mablethorpe House.
The chain of events began to unroll itself in her mind clearly,
link by link.
She remarked, as she pursued the retrospect, how strangely
Chance, or Fate, had paved the way for the act of personation, in
the first place.
If they had met under ordinary circumstances, neither Mercy nor
Grace would have trusted each other with the confidences which
had been exchanged between them. As the event had happened, they
had come together, under those extraordinary circumstances of
common trial and common peril, in a strange country, which would
especially predispose two women of the same nation to open their
hearts to each other. In no other way could Mercy have obtained
at a first interview that fatal knowledge of Grace's position and
Grace's affairs which had placed temptation before her as the
necessary consequence that followed the bursting of the German
Advancing from this point through the succeeding series of events
which had so naturally and yet so strangely favored the
perpetration of the fraud, Mercy reached the later period when
Grace had followed her to England. Here again she remarked, in
the second place, how Chance, or Fate, had once more paved the
way for that second meeting which had confronted them with one
another at Mablethorpe House.
She had, as she well remembered, attended at a certain assembly
(convened by a charitable society) in the character of Lady
Janet's representative, at Lady Janet's own request. For that
reason she had been absent from the house when Grace had entered
it. If her return had been delayed by a few minutes only, Julian
would have had time to take Grace out of the room, and the
terrible meeting which had stretched Mercy senseless on the floor
would never have taken place. As the event had happened, the
period of her absence had been fatally shortened by what appeared
at the time to be, the commonest possible occurrence. The,
persons assembled at the society's rooms had disagreed so
seriously on the business which had brought them together as to
render it necessary to take the ordinary course of adjourning the
proceedings to a future day. And Chance, or Fate, had so timed
that adjournment as to bring Mercy back into the dining-room
exactly at the moment when Grace Roseberry insisted on being
confronted with the woman who had taken her place.
She had never yet seen the circumstances in this sinister light.
She was alone in her room, at a crisis in her life. She was worn
and weakened by emotions which had shaken her to the soul.
Little by little she felt the enervating influences let loose on
her, in her lonely position, by her new train of thought. Little
by little her heart began to sink under the stealthy chill of
superstitious dread. Vaguely horrible presentiments throbbed in
her with her pulses, flowed through her with her blood. Mystic
oppressions of hidden disaster hovered over her in the atmosphere
of the room. The cheerful candle-light turned traitor to her and
grew dim. Supernatural murmurs trembled round the house in the
moaning of the winter wind. She was afraid to look behind her. On
a sudden she felt her own cold hands covering her face, without
knowing when she had lifted them to it, or why.
Still helpless, under the horror that held her, she suddenly
heard footsteps--a man's footsteps--in the corridor outside. At
other times the sound would have startled her: now it broke the
spell. The footsteps suggested life, companionship, human
interposition--no matter of what sort. She mechanically took up
her pen; she found herself beginning to remember her letter to
At the same moment the footsteps stopped outside her door. The
She still felt shaken. She was hardly mistress of herself yet. A
faint cry of alarm escaped her at the sound of the knock. Before
it could be repeated she had rallied her courage, and had opened
The man in the corridor was Horace Holmcroft.
His ruddy complexion had turned pale. His hair (of which he was
especially careful at other times) was in disorder. The
superficial polish of his manner was gone; the undisguised man,
sullen, distrustful, irritated to the last degree of endurance,
showed through. He looked at her with a watchfully suspicious
eye; he spoke to her, without preface or apology, in a coldly
"Are you aware," he asked, "of what is going on downstairs?"
"I have not left my room," she answered. "I know that Lady Janet
has deferred the explanation which I had promised to give her,
and I know no more."
"Has nobody told you what Lady Janet did after you left us? Has
nobody told you that she politely placed her own boudoir at the
disposal of the very woman whom she had ordered half an hour
before to leave the house? Do you really not know that Mr. Julian
Gray has himself conducted this suddenly-honored guest to her
place of retirement? and that I am left alone in the midst of
these changes, contradictions, and mysteries--the only person who
is kept out in the dark?"
"It is surely needless to ask me these questions," said Mercy,
gently. "Who could possibly have told me what was going on below
stairs before you knocked at my door?"
He looked at her with an ironical affectation of surprise.
"You are strangely forgetful to-day," he said. "Surely your
friend Mr. Julian Gray might have told you? I am astonished to
hear that he has not had his private interview yet."
"I don't understand you, Horace."
"I don't want you to understand me," he retorted, irritably. "The
proper person to understand me is Julian Gray. I look to _him_ to
account to me for the confidential relations which seem to have
been established between you behind my back. He has avoided me
thus far, but I shall find my way to him yet."
His manner threatened more than his words expressed. In Mercy's
nervous condition at the moment, it suggested to her that he
might attempt to fasten a quarrel on Julian Gray.
"You are entirely mistaken," she said, warmly. "You are
ungratefully doubting your best and truest friend. I say nothing
of myself. You will soon discover why I patiently submit to
suspicions which other women would resent as an insult."
"Let me discover it at once. Now! Without wasting a moment more!"
There had hitherto been some little distance between them. Mercy
had listened, waiting on the threshold of her door; Horace had
spoken, standing against the opposite wall of the corridor. When
he said his last words he suddenly stepped forward, and (with
something imperative in the gesture) laid his hand on her arm.
The strong grasp of it almost hurt her. She struggled to release
"Let me go!" she said. "What do you mean?"
He dropped her arm as suddenly as he had taken it.
"You shall know what I mean," he replied. "A woman who has
grossly outraged and insulted you--whose only excuse is that she
is mad--is detained in the house at your desire, I might almost
say at your command, when the police officer is waiting to take
her away. I have a right to know what this means. I am engaged to
marry you. If you won't trust other people, you are bound to
explain yourself to Me. I refuse to wait for Lady Janet's
convenience. I insist (if you force me to say so)--I insist on
knowing the real nature of your connection with this affair. You
have obliged me to follow you here; it is my only opportunity of
speaking to you. You avoid me; you shut yourself up from me in
your own room. I am not your husband yet--I have no right to
follow you in. But there are other rooms open to us. The library
is at our disposal, and I will take care that we are not
interrupted. I am now going there, and I have a last question to
ask. You are to be my wife in a week's time: will you take me
into your confidence or not?"
To hesitate was, in this case, literally to be lost. Mercy's
sense of justice told her that Horace had claimed no more than
his due. She answered instantly:
"I will follow you to the library, Horace, in five minutes."
Her prompt and frank compliance with his wishes surprised and
touched him. He took her hand.
She had endured all that his angry sense of injury could say. His
gratitude wounded her to the quick. The bitterest moment she had
felt yet was the moment in which he raised her hand to his lips,
and murmured tenderly, "My own true Grace!" She could only sign
to him to leave her, and hurry back into her own room.
Her first feeling, when she found herself alone again, was
wonder--wonder that it should never have occurred to her, until
he had himself suggested it, that her betrothed husband had the
foremost right to her confession. Her horror at owning to either
of them that she had cheated them out of their love had hitherto
placed Horace and Lady Janet on the same level. She now saw for
the first time that there was no comparison between the claims
which they respectively had on her. She owned an allegiance to
Horace to which Lady Janet could assert no right. Cost her what
it might to avow the truth to him with her own lips, the cruel
sacrifice must be made.
Without a moment's hesitation she put away her writing materials.
It amazed her that she should ever have thought of using Julian
Gray as an interpreter between the man to whom she was betrothed
and herself. Julian's sympathy (she thought) must have made a
strong impression on her indeed to blind her to a duty which was
beyond all compromise, which admitted of no dispute!
She had asked for five minutes of delay before she followed
Horace. It was too long a time.
Her one chance of finding courage to crush him with the dreadful
revelation of who she really was, of what she had really done,
was to plunge headlong into the disclosure without giving herself
time to think. The shame of it would overpower her if she gave
herself time to think.
She turned to the door to follow him at once.
Even at that terrible moment the most ineradicable of all a
woman's instincts--the instinct of personal self-respect--brought
her to a pause. She had passed through more than one terrible
trial since she had dressed to go downstairs. Remembering this,
she stopped mechanically, retraced her steps, and looked at
herself in the glass.
There was no motive of vanity in what she now did. The action was
as unconscious as if she had buttoned an unfastened glove, or
shaken out a crumpled dress. Not the faintest idea crossed her
mind of looking to see if her beauty might still plead for her,
and of trying to set it off at its best.
A momentary smile, the most weary, the most hopeless, that ever
saddened a woman's face, appeared in the reflection which her
mirror gave her back. "Haggard, ghastly, old before my time!" she
said to herself. "Well! better so. He will feel it less--he will
not regret me."
With that thought she went downstairs to meet him in the library.
THE MAN IN THE DINING-ROOM.
IN the great emergencies of life we feel, or we act, as our
dispositions incline us. But we never think. Mercy's mind was a
blank as she descended the stairs. On her way down she was
conscious of nothing but the one headlong impulse to get to the
library in the shortest possible space of time. Arrived at the
door, the impulse capriciously left her. She stopped on the mat,
wondering why she had hurried herself, with time to spare. Her
heart sank; the fever of her excitement changed suddenly to a
chill as she faced the closed door, and asked herself the
question, Dare I go in?
Her own hand answered her. She lifted it to turn the handle of
the lock. It dropped again helplessly at her side.
The sense of her own irresolution wrung from her a low
exclamation of despair. Faint as it was, it had apparently not
passed unheard. The door was opened from within--and Horace stood
He drew aside to let her pass into the room. But he never
followed her in. He stood in the doorway, and spoke to her,
keeping the door open with his hand.
"Do you mind waiting here for me?" he asked.
She looked at him, in vacant surprise, doubting whether she had
heard him aright.
"It will not be for long," he went on. "I am far too anxious to
hear what you have to tell me to submit to any needless delays.
The truth is, I have had a message from Lady Janet."
(From Lady Janet! What could Lady Janet want with him, at a time
when she was bent on composing herself in the retirement of her
"I ought to have said two messages," Horace proceeded. "The first
was given to me on my way downstairs. Lady Janet wished to see me
immediately. I sent an excuse. A second message followed. Lady
Janet would accept no excuse. If I refused to go to her I should
be merely obliging her to come to me. It is impossible to risk
being interrupted in that way; my only alternative is to get the
thing over as soon as possible. Do you mind waiting?"
"Certainly not. Have you any idea of what Lady Janet wants with
"No. Whatever it is, she shall not keep me long away from you.
You will be quite alone here; I have warned the servants not to
show any one in." With those words he left her.
Mercy's first sensation was a sensation of relief--soon lost in a
feeling of shame at the weakness which could welcome any
temporary relief in such a position as hers. The emotion thus
roused merged, in its turn, into a sense of impatient regret.
"But for Lady Janet's message," she thought to herself, "I might
have known my fate by this time!"
The slow minutes followed each other drearily. She paced to and
fro in the library, faster and faster, under the intolerable
irritation, the maddening uncertainty, of her own suspense. Ere
long, even the spacious room seemed to be too small for her. The
sober monotony of the long book-lined shelves oppressed and
offended her. She threw open the door which led into the
dining-room, and dashed in, eager for a change of objects,
athirst for more space and more air.
At the first step she checked herself; rooted to the spot, under
a sudden revulsion of feeling which quieted her in an instant.
The room was only illuminated by the waning fire-light. A man was
obscurely visible, seated on the sofa, with his elbows on his
knees and his head resting on his hands. He looked up as the open
door let in the light from the library lamps. The mellow glow
reached his face and revealed Julian Gray.
Mercy was standing with her back to the light; her face being
necessarily hidden in deep shadow. He recognized her by her
figure, and by the attitude into which it unconsciously fell.
That unsought grace, that lithe long beauty of line, belonged to
but one woman in the house. He rose, and approached her.
"I have been wishing to see you," he said, "and hoping that
accident might bring about some such meeting as this."
He offered her a chair. Mercy hesitated before she took her seat.
This was their first meeting alone since Lady Janet had
interrupted her at the moment when she was about to confide to
Julian the melancholy story of the past. Was he anxious to seize
the opportunity of returni ng to her confession? The terms in
which he had addressed her seemed to imply it. She put the
question to him in plain words
"I feel the deepest interest in hearing all that you have still
to confide to me," he answered. "But anxious as I may be, I will
not hurry you. I will wait, if you wish it."
"I am afraid I must own that I do wish it," Mercy rejoined. "Not
on my account--but because my time is at the disposal of Horace
Holmcroft. I expect to see him in a few minutes."
"Could you give me those few minutes?" Julian asked. "I have
something on my side to say to you which I think you ought to
know before you see any one--Horace himself included."
He spoke with a certain depression of tone which was not
associated with her previous experience of him. His face looked
prematurely old and careworn in the red light of the fire.
Something had plainly happened to sadden and to disappoint him
since they had last met.
"I willingly offer you all the time that I have at my own
command," Mercy replied. "Does what you have to tell me relate to
He gave her no direct reply. "What I have to tell you of Lady
Janet," he said, gravely, "is soon told. So far as she is
concerned you have nothing more to dread. Lady Janet knows all."
Even the heavy weight of oppression caused by the impending
interview with Horace failed to hold its place in Mercy's mind
when Julian answered her in those words.
"Come into the lighted room," she said, faintly. "It is too
terrible to hear you say that in the dark."
Julian followed her into the library. Her limbs trembled under
her. She dropped into a chair, and shrank under his great bright
eyes, as he stood by her side looking sadly down on her.
"Lady Janet knows all!" she repeated, with her head on her
breast, and the tears falling slowly over her cheeks. "Have you
"I have said nothing to Lady Janet or to any one. Your confidence
is a sacred confidence to me, until you have spoken first."
"Has Lady Janet said anything to you?"
"Not a word. She has looked at you with the vigilant eyes of
love; she has listened to you with the quick hearing of love--and
she has found her own way to the truth. She will not speak of it
to me-- she will not speak of it to any living creature. I only
know now how dearly she loved you. In spite of herself she clings
to you still. Her life, poor soul, has been a barren one;
unworthy, miserably unworthy, of such a nature as hers. Her
marriage was loveless and childless. She has had admirers, but
never, in the higher sense of the word, a friend. All the best
years of her life have been wasted in the unsatisfied longing for
something to love. At the end of her life You have filled the
void. Her heart has found its youth again, through You. At her
age--at any age--is such a tie as this to be rudely broken at the
mere bidding of circumstances? No! She will suffer anything, risk
anything, forgive anything, rather than own, even to herself,
that she has been deceived in you. There is more than her
happiness at stake; there is pride, a noble pride, in such love
as hers, which will ignore the plainest discovery and deny the
most unanswerable truth. I am firmly convinced--from my own
knowledge of her character, and from what I have observed in her
to-day--that she will find some excuse for refusing to hear your
confession. And more than that, I believe (if the exertion of her
influence can do it) that she will leave no means untried of
preventing you from acknowledging your true position here to any
living creature. I take a serious responsibility on myself in
telling you this--and I don't shrink from it. You ought to know,
and you shall know, what trials and what temptations may yet lie
He paused--leaving Mercy time to compose herself, if she wished
to speak to him.
She felt that there was a necessity for her speaking to him. He
was plainly not aware that Lady Janet had already written to her
to defer her promised explanation. This circumstance was in
itself a confirmation of the opinion which he had expressed. She
ought to mention it to him; she tried to mention it to him. But
she was not equal to the effort. The few simple words in which he
had touched on the tie that bound Lady Janet to her had wrung her
heart. Her tears choked her. She could only sign to him to go on.
"You may wonder at my speaking so positively," he continued,
"with nothing better than my own conviction to justify me. I can
only say that I have watched Lady Janet too closely to feel any
doubt. I saw the moment in which the truth flashed on her, as
plainly as I now see you. It did not disclose itself
gradually--it burst on her, as it burst on me. She suspected
nothing--she was frankly indignant at your sudden interference
and your strange language--until the time came in which you
pledged yourself to produce Mercy Merrick. Then (and then only)
the truth broke on her mind, trebly revealed to her in your
words, your voice, and your look. Then (and then only) I saw a
marked change come over her, and remain in her while she remained
in the room. I dread to think of what she may do in the first
reckless despair of the discovery that she has made. I
distrust--though God knows I am not naturally a suspicious
man--the most apparently trifling events that are now taking
place about us. You have held nobly to your resolution to own the
truth. Prepare yourself, before the evening is over, to be tried
and tempted again."
Mercy lifted her head. Fear took the place of grief in her eyes,
as they rested in startled inquiry on Julian's face.
"How is it possible that temptation can come to me now?" she
"I will leave it to events to answer that question," he said.
"You will not have long to wait. In the meantime I have put you
on your guard." He stooped, and spoke his next words earnestly,
close at her ear. "Hold fast by the admirable courage which you
have shown thus far," he went on. "Suffer anything rather than
suffer the degradation of yourself. Be the woman whom I once
spoke of--the woman I still have in my mind--who can nobly reveal
the noble nature that is in her. And never forget this-- my faith
in you is as firm as ever!"
She looked at him proudly and gratefully.
"I am pledged to justify your faith in me," she said. "I have put
it out of my own power to yield. Horace has my promise that I
will explain everything to him, in this room."
"Has Horace himself asked it of you?" he inquired. "_He_, at
least, has no suspicion of the truth."
"Horace has appealed to my duty to him as his betrothed wife,"
she answered. "He has the first claim to my confidence--he
resents my silence, and he has a right to resent it. Terrible as
it will be to open _his_ eyes to the truth, I must do it if he
She was looking at Julian while she spoke. The old longing to
associate with the hard trial of the confession the one man who
had felt for her, and believed in her, revived under another
form. If she could only know, while she was saying the fatal
words to Horace, that Julian was listening too, she would be
encouraged to meet the worst that could happen! As the idea
crossed her mind, she observed that Julian was looking toward the
door through which they had lately passed. In an instant she saw
the means to her end. Hardly waiting to hear the few kind
expressions of sympathy and approval which he addressed to her,
she hinted timidly at the proposal which she had now to make to
"Are you going back into the next room?" she asked.
"Not if you object to it," he replied.
"I don't object. I want you to be there."
"After Horace has joined you?"
"Yes. After Horace has joined me."
"Do you wish to see me when it is over?"
She summoned her resolution, and told him frankly what she had in
"I want you to be near me while I am speaking to Horace," she
said. "It will give me courage if I can feel that I am speaking
to you as well as to him. I can count on _your_ sympathy--and
sympathy is so precious to me now! Am I asking too much, if I ask
you to leave the door unclosed when you go back to the
dining-room? Think of the dreadful trial--to him as well as to
me! I am only a
woman; I am afraid I may sink under it, if I have no friend near
me. And I have no friend but you."
In those simple words she tried her powers of persuasion on him
for the first time.
Between perplexity and distress Julian was, for the moment, at a
loss how to answer her. The love for Mercy which he dared not
acknowledge was as vital a feeling in him as the faith in her
which he had been free to avow. To refuse anything that she asked
of him in her sore need--and, more even than that, to refuse to
hear the confession which it had been her first impulse to make
to _him_--these were cruel sacrifices to his sense of what was
due to Horace and of what was due to himself. But shrink as he
might, even from the appearance of deserting her, it was
impossible for him (except under a reserve which was almost
equivalent to a denial) to grant her request.
"All that I can do I will do," he said. "The doors shall be left
unclosed, and I will remain in the next room, on this condition,
that Horace knows of it as well as you. I should be unworthy of
your confidence in me if I consented to be a listener on any
other terms. You understand that, I am sure, as well as I do."
She had never thought of her proposal to him in this light.
Woman-like, she had thought of nothing but the comfort of having
him near her. She understood him now. A faint flush of shame rose
on her pale cheeks as she thanked him. He delicately relieved her
from her embarrassment by putting a question which naturally
occurred under the circumstances.
"Where is Horace all this time?" he asked. "Why is he not here?"
"He has been called away," she answered, "by a message from Lady
The reply more than astonished Julian; it seemed almost to alarm
him. He returned to Mercy's chair; he said to her, eagerly, "Are
"Horace himself told me that Lady Janet had insisted on seeing
"Not long ago. He asked me to wait for him here while he went
Julian's face darkened ominously.
"This confirms my worst fears," he said. "Have _you_ had any
communication with Lady Janet?"
Mercy replied by showing him his aunt's note. He read it
"Did I not tell you," he said, "that she would find some excuse
for refusing to hear your confession? She begins by delaying it,
simply to gain time for something else which she has it in her
mind to do. When did you receive this note? Soon after you went
"About a quarter of an hour after, as well as I can guess."
"Do you know what happened down here after you left us?"
"Horace told me that Lady Janet had offered Miss Roseberry the
use of her boudoir."
"He said that you had shown her the way to the room."
"Did he tell you what happened after that?"
"Then I must tell you. If I can do nothing more in this serious
state of things, I can at least prevent your being taken by
surprise. In the first place, it is right you should know that I
had a motive for accompanying Miss Roseberry to the boudoir. I
was anxious (for your sake) to make some appeal to her better
self--if she had any better self to address. I own I had doubts
of my success--judging by what I had already seen of her. My
doubts were confirmed. In the ordinary intercourse of life I
should merely have thought her a commonplace, uninteresting
woman. Seeing her as I saw her while we were alone--in other
words, penetrating below the surface--I have never, in all my sad
experience, met with such a hopelessly narrow, mean, and low
nature as hers. Understanding, as she could not fail to do, what
the sudden change in Lady Janet's behavior toward her really
meant, her one idea was to take the cruelest possible advantage
of it. So far from feeling any consideration for _you_, she was
only additionally imbittered toward you. She protested against
your being permitted to claim the merit of placing her in her
right position here by your own voluntary avowal of the truth.
She insisted on publicly denouncing you, and on forcing Lady
Janet to dismiss you, unheard, before the whole household! 'Now I
can have my revenge! At last Lady Janet is afraid of me!' Those
were her own words--I am almost ashamed to repeat them--those, on
my honor, were her own words! Every possible humiliation to be
heaped on you; no consideration to be shown for Lady Janet's age
and Lady Janet's position; nothing, absolutely nothing, to be
allowed to interfere with Miss Roseberry's vengeance and Miss
Roseberry's triumph! There is this woman's shameless view of what
is due to her, as stated by herself in the plainest terms. I kept
my temper; I did all I could to bring her to a better frame of
mind. I might as well have pleaded--I won't say with a savage;
savages are sometimes accessible to remonstrance, if you know how
to reach them--I might as well have pleaded with a hungry animal
to abstain from eating while food was within its reach. I had
just given up the hopeless effort in disgust, when Lady Janet's
maid appeared with a message for Miss Roseberry from her
mistress: 'My lady's compliments, ma'am, and she will be glad to
see you at your earliest convenience, in her room.'"
Another surprise! Grace Roseberry invited to an interview with
Lady Janet! It would have been impossible to believe it, if
Julian had not heard the invitation given with his own ears.
"She instantly rose," Julian proceeded. "'I won't keep her
ladyship waiting a moment,' she said; 'show me the way.' She
signed to the maid to go out of the room first, and then turned
round and spoke to me from the door. I despair of describing the
insolent exultation of her manner. I can only repeat her words:
'This is exactly what I wanted! I had intended to insist on
seeing Lady Janet: she saves me the trouble. I am infinitely
obliged to her.' With that she nodded to me, and closed the door.
I have not seen her, I have not heard of her, since. For all I
know, she may be still with my aunt, and Horace may have found
her there when he entered the room."
"What can Lady Janet have to say to her?" Mercy asked, eagerly.
"It is impossible even to guess. When you found me in the
dining-room I was considering that very question. I cannot
imagine that any neutral ground can exist on which it is possible
for Lady Janet and this woman to meet. In her present frame of
mind she will in all probability insult Lady Janet before she has
been five minutes in the room. I own I am completely puzzled. The
one conclusion I can arrive at is that the note which my aunt
sent to you, the private interview with Miss Roseberry which has
followed, and the summons to Horace which has succeeded in its
turn, are all links in the same chain of events, and are all
tending to that renewed temptation against which I have already
Mercy held up her hand for silence. She looked toward the door
that opened on the hall; had she heard a footstep outside? No.
All was still. Not a sign yet of Horace's return.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "what would I not give to know what is going
"You will soon know it now," said Julian. "It is impossible that
our present uncertainty can last much longer."
He turned away, intending to go back to the room in which she had
found him. Looking at her situation from a man's point of view,
he naturally assumed that the best service he could now render to
Mercy would be to leave her to prepare herself for the interview
with Horace. Before he had taken three steps away from her she
showed him the difference between the woman's point of view and
the man's. The idea of considering beforehand what she should say
never entered her mind. In her horror of being left by herself at
that critical moment, she forgot every other consideration. Even
the warning remembrance of Horace's jealous distrust of Julian
passed away from her, for the moment, as completely as if it
never had a place in her memory. "Don't leave me!" she cried. "I
can't wait here alone. Come back--come back!"
She rose impulsively while she spoke, as if to follow him into
the dining-room, if he persisted in leaving her.
A momentary expression of doubt crossed Julian's face as he
retraced his steps and signed to her to be seated a gain. Could
she be depended on (he asked himself) to sustain the coming test
of her resolution, when she had not courage enough to wait for
events in a room by herself? Julian had yet to learn that a
woman's courage rises with the greatness of the emergency. Ask
her to accompany you through a field in which some harmless
cattle happen to be grazing, and it is doubtful, in nine cases
out of ten, if she will do it. Ask her, as one of the passengers
in a ship on fire, to help in setting an example of composure to
the rest, and it is certain, in nine cases out of ten, that she
will do it. As soon as Julian had taken a chair near her, Mercy
was calm again.
"Are you sure of your resolution?" he asked.
"I am certain of it," she answered, "as long as you don't leave
me by myself."
The talk between them dropped there. They sat together in
silence, with their eyes fixed on the door, waiting for Horace to
After the lapse of a few minutes their attention was attracted by
a sound outside in the grounds. A carriage of some sort was
plainly audible approaching the house.
The carriage stopped; the bell rang; the front door was opened.
Had a visitor arrived? No voice could be heard making inquiries.
No footsteps but the servant's footsteps crossed the hall. Along
pause followed, the carriage remaining at the door. Instead of
bringing some one to the house, it had apparently arrived to take
some one away.
The next event was the return of the servant to the front door.
They listened again. Again no second footstep was audible. The
door was closed; the servant recrossed the hall; the carriage was
driven away. Judging by sounds alone, no one had arrived at the
house, and no one had left the house.
Julian looked at Mercy. "Do you understand this?" he asked.
She silently shook her head.
"If any person has gone away in the carriage," Julian went on,
"that person can hardly have been a man, or we must have heard
him in the hall."
The conclusion which her companion had just drawn from the
noiseless departure of the supposed visitor raised a sudden doubt
in Mercy's mind.
"Go and inquire!" she said, eagerly.
Julian left the room, and returned again, after a brief absence,
with signs of grave anxiety in his face and manner.
"I told you I dreaded the most trifling events that were passing
about us," he said. "An event, which is far from being trifling,
has just happened. The carriage which we heard approaching along
the drive turns out to have been a cab sent for from the house.
The person who has gone away in it--"
"Is a woman, as you supposed?"
Mercy rose excitedly from her chair.
"It can't be Grace Roseberry?" she exclaimed.
"It _is_ Grace Roseberry."
"Has she gone away alone?"
"Alone--after an interview with Lady Janet."
"Did she go willingly?"
"She herself sent the servant for the cab."
"What does it mean?"
"It is useless to inquire. We shall soon know."
They resumed their seats, waiting, as they had waited already,
with their eyes on the library door.
LADY JANET AT BAY.
THE narrative leaves Julian and Mercy for a while, and, ascending
to the upper regions of the house, follows the march of events in
Lady Janet's room.
The maid had delivered her mistress's note to Mercy, and had gone
away again on her second errand to Grace Roseberry in her
boudoir. Lady Janet was seated at her writing-table, waiting for
the appearance of the woman whom she had summoned to her
presence. A single lamp difused its mild light over the books,
pictures, and busts round her, leaving the further end of the
room, in which the bed was placed, almost lost in obscurity. The
works of art were all portraits; the books were all presentation
copies from the authors. It was Lady Janet's fancy to associate
her bedroom with memorials of the various persons whom she had
known in the long course of her life--all of them more or less
distinguished, most of them, by this time, gathered with the
She sat near her writing-table, lying back in her easy-chair--the
living realization of the picture which Julian's description had
drawn. Her eyes were fixed on a photographic likeness of Mercy,
which was so raised upon a little gilt easel as to enable her to
contemplate it under the full light of the lamp. The bright,
mobile old face was strangely and sadly changed. The brow was
fixed; the mouth was rigid; the whole face would have been like a
mask, molded in the hardest forms of passive resistance and
surpressed rage, but for the light and life still thrown over it
by the eyes. There was something unutterably touching in the keen
hungering tenderness of the look which they fixed on the
portrait, intensified by an underlying expression of fond and
patient reproach. The danger which Julian so wisely dreaded was
in the rest of the face; the love which he had so truly described
was in the eyes alone. _They_ still spoke of the cruelly profaned
affection which had been the one immeasurable joy, the one
inexhaustible hope of Lady Janet's closing life. The brow
expressed nothing but her obstinate determination to stand by the
wreck of that joy, to rekindle the dead ashes of that hope. The
lips were only eloquent of her unflinching resolution to ignore
the hateful present and to save the sacred past. "My idol may be
shattered, but none of you shall know it. I stop the march of
discovery; I extinguish the light of truth. I am deaf to your
words; am blind to your proofs. At seventy years old, my idol is
my life. It shall be my idol still."
The silence in the bedroom was broken by a murmuring of women's
voices outside the door.
Lady Janet instantly raised herself in the chair and snatched the
photograph off the easel. She laid the portrait face downward,
among some papers on the table, then abruptly changed her mind,
and hid it among the thick folds of lace which clothed her neck
and bosom. There was a world of love in the action itself, and in
the sudden softening of the eyes which accompanied it. The next
moment Lady Janet's mask was on. Any superficial observer who had
seen her now would have said, "This is a hard woman!"
The door was opened by the maid. Grace Roseberry entered the
She advanced rapidly, with a defiant assurance in her manner, and
a lofty carriage of her head. She sat down in the chair, to which
Lady Janet silently pointed, with a thump; she returned Lady
Janet's grave bow with a nod and a smile. Every movement and
every look of the little, worn, white-faced, shabbily dressed
woman expressed insolent triumph, and said, as if in words, "My
turn has come!"
"I am glad to wait on your ladyship," she began, without giving
Lady Janet an opportunity of speaking first. "Indeed, I should
have felt it my duty to request an interview, if you had not sent
your maid to invite me up here."
"You would have felt it your duty to request an interview?" Lady
Janet repeated, very quietly. "Why?"
The tone in which that one last word was spoken embarrassed Grace
at the outset. It established as great a distance between Lady
Janet and herself as if she had been lifted in her chair and
conveyed bodily to the other end of the room.
"I am surprised that your ladyship should not understand me," she
said, struggling to conceal her confusion. "Especially after your
kind offer of your own boudoir."
Lady Janet remained perfectly unmoved. "I do _not_ understand
you," she answered, just as quietly as ever.
Grace's temper came to her assistance. She recovered the
assurance which had marked her first appearance on the scene.
"In that case," she resumed, "I must enter into particulars, in
justice to myself. I can place but one interpretation on the
extraordinary change in your ladyship's behavior to me
downstairs. The conduct of that abominable woman has at last
opened your eyes to the deception that has been practiced on you.
For some reason of your own, however, you have not yet chosen to
recognize me openly. In this painful position something is due to
my own self-respect. I cannot, and will not, permit Mercy Merrick
to claim the merit of restoring me to my proper place in this
house. After what I have suffered it is quite impossible for me
to endu re that. I should have requested an interview (if you had
not sent for me) for the express purpose of claiming this
person's immediate expulsion from the house. I claim it now as a
proper concession to Me. Whatever you or Mr. Julian Gray may do,
_I_ will not tamely permit her to exhibit herself as an
interesting penitent. It is really a little too much to hear this
brazen adventuress appoint her own time for explaining herself.
It is too deliberately insulting to see her sail out of the
room--with a clergyman of the Church of England opening the door
for her--as if she was laying me under an obligation! I can
forgive much, Lady Janet--including the terms in which you
thought it decent to order me out of your house. I am quite
willing to accept the offer of your boudoir, as the expression on
your part of a better frame of mind. But even Christian Charity
has its limits. The continued presence of that wretch under your
roof is, you will permit me to remark, not only a monument of
your own weakness, but a perfectly insufferable insult to Me."
There she stopped abruptly--not for want of words, but for want
of a listener.
Lady Janet was not even pretending to attend to her. Lady Janet,
with a deliberate rudeness entirely foreign to her usual habits,
was composedly busying herself in arranging the various papers
scattered about the table. Some she tied together with little
morsels of string; some she placed under paper-weights; some she
deposited in the fantastic pigeon-holes of a little Japanese
cabinet--working with a placid enjoyment of her own orderly
occupation, and perfectly unaware, to all outward appearance,
that any second person was in the room. She looked up, with her
papers in both hands, when Grace stopped, and said, quietly,
"Have you done?"
"Is your ladyship's purpose in sending for me to treat me with
studied rudeness?" Grace retorted, angrily.
"My purpose in sending for you is to say something as soon as you
will allow me the opportunity."
The impenetrable composure of that reply took Grace completely by
surprise. She had no retort ready. In sheer astonishment she
waited silently with her eyes riveted on the mistress of the
Lady Janet put down her papers, and settled herself comfortably
in the easy-chair, preparatory to opening the interview on her
"The little that I have to say to you," she began, "may be said
in a question. Am I right in supposing that you have no present
employment, and that a little advance in money (delicately
offered) would be very acceptable to you?"
"Do you mean to insult me, Lady Janet?"
"Certainly not. I mean to ask you a question."
"Your question is an insult."
"My question is a kindness, if you will only understand it as it
is intended. I don't complain of your not understanding it. I
don't even hold you responsible for any one of the many breaches
of good manners which you have committed since you have been in
this room. I was honestly anxious to be of some service to you,
and you have repelled my advances. I am sorry. Let us drop the
Expressing herself in the most perfect temper in those terms,
Lady Janet resumed the arrangement of her papers, and became
unconscious once more of the presence of any second person in the
Grace opened her lips to reply with the utmost intemperance of an
angry woman, and thinking better of it, controlled herself. It
was plainly useless to take the violent way with Lady Janet Roy.
Her age and her social position were enough of themselves to
repel any violence. She evidently knew that, and trusted to it.
Grace resolved to meet the enemy on the neutral ground of
politeness, as the most promising ground that she could occupy
under present circumstances.
"If I have said anything hasty, I beg to apologize to your
ladyship," she began. "May I ask if your only object in sending
for me was to inquire into my pecuniary affairs, with a view to
"That," said Lady Janet, "was my only object."
"You had nothing to say to me on the subject of Mercy Merrick?"
"Nothing whatever. I am weary of hearing of Mercy Merrick. Have
you any more questions to ask me?"
"I have one more."
"I wish to ask your ladyship whether you propose to recognize me
in the presence of your household as the late Colonel Roseberry's
"I have already recognized you as a lady in embarrassed
circumstances, who has peculiar claims on my consideration and
forbearance. If you wish me to repeat those words in the presence
of the servants (absurd as it is), I am ready to comply with your
Grace's temper began to get the better of her prudent
"Lady Janet!" she said; "this won't do. I must request you to
express yourself plainly. You talk of my peculiar claims on your
forbearance. What claims do you mean?"
"It will be painful to both of us if we enter into details,"
replied Lady Janet. "Pray don't let us enter into details."
"I insist on it, madam."
"Pray don't insist on it."
Grace was deaf to remonstrance.
"I ask you in plain words," she went on, "do you acknowledge that
you have been deceived by an adventuress who has personated me?
Do you mean to restore me to my proper place in this house?"
Lady Janet returned to the arrangement of her papers.
"Does your ladyship refuse to listen to me?"
Lady Janet looked up from her papers as blandly as ever.
"If _you_ persist in returning to your delusion," she said, "you
will oblige _me_ to persist in returning to my papers."
"What is my delusion, if you please?"
"Your delusion is expressed in the questions you have just put to
me. Your delusion constitutes your peculiar claim on my
forbearance. Nothing you can say or do will shake my forbearance.
When I first found you in the dining-room, I acted most
improperly; I lost my temper. I did worse; I was foolish enough
and imprudent enough to send for a police officer. I owe you
every possible atonement (afflicted as you are) for treating you
in that cruel manner. I offered you the use of my boudoir, as
part of my atonement. I sent for you, in the hope that you would
allow me to assist you, as part of my atonement. You may behave
rudely to me, you may speak in the most abusive terms of my
adopted daughter; I will submit to anything, as part of my
atonement. So long as you abstain from speaking on one painful
subject, I will listen to you with the greatest pleasure.
Whenever you return to that subject I shall return to my papers."
Grace looked at Lady Janet with an evil smile.
"I begin to understand your ladyship," she said. "You are ashamed
to acknowledge that you have been grossly imposed upon. Your only
alternative, of course, is to ignore everything that has
happened. Pray count on _my_ forbearance. I am not at all
offended--I am merely amused. It is not every day that a lady of
high rank exhibits herself in such a position as yours to an
obscure woman like me. Your humane consideration for me dates, I
presume, from the time when your adopted daughter set you the
example, by ordering the police officer out of the room?"
Lady Janet's composure was proof even against this assault on it.
She gravely accepted Grace's inquiry as a question addressed to
her in perfect good faith.
"I am not at all surprised," she replied, "to find that my
adopted daughter's interference has exposed her to
misrepresentation. She ought to have remonstrated with me
privately before she interfered. But she has one fault--she is
too impulsive. I have never, in all my experience, met with such
a warm-hearted person as she is. Always too considerate of
others; always too forgetful of herself! The mere appearance of
the police officer placed you in a situation to appeal to her
compassion, and her impulses carried her away as usual. My fault!
All my fault!"
Grace changed her tone once more. She was quick enough to discern
that Lady Janet was a match for her with her own weapons.
"We have had enough of this," she said. "It is time to be
serious. Your adopted daughter (as you call her) is Mercy
Merrick, and you know it."
Lady Janet returned to her papers.
"I am Grace Roseberry, whose name she has stolen, and you know
Lady Janet went o n with her papers.
Grace got up from her chair.
"I accept your silence, Lady Janet," she said, "as an
acknowledgment of your deliberate resolution to suppress the
truth. You are evidently determined to receive the adventuress as
the true woman; and you don't scruple to face the consequences of
that proceeding, by pretending to my face to believe that I am
mad. I will not allow myself to be impudently cheated out of my
rights in this way. You will hear from me again madam, when the
Canadian mail arrives in England."
She walked toward the door. This time Lady Janet answered, as
readily and as explicitly as it was possible to desire.
"I shall refuse to receive your letters," she said.
Grace returned a few steps, threateningly.
"My letters shall be followed by my witnesses," she proceeded.
"I shall refuse to receive your witnesses."
"Refuse at your peril. I will appeal to the law."
Lady Janet smiled.
"I don't pretend to much knowledge of the subject," she said;
"but I should be surprised indeed if I discovered that you had
any claim on me which the law could enforce. However, let us
suppose that you _can_ set the law in action. You know as well as
I do that the only motive power which can do that is--money. I am
rich; fees, costs, and all the rest of it are matters of no sort
of consequence to me. May I ask if you are in the same position?"
The question silenced Grace. So far as money was concerned, she
was literally at the end of her resources. Her only friends were
friends in Canada. After what she had said to him in the boudoir,
it would be quite useless to appeal to the sympathies of Julian
Gray. In the pecuniary sense, and in one word, she was absolutely
incapable of gratifying her own vindictive longings. And there
sat the mistress of Mablethorpe House, perfectly well aware of
Lady Janet pointed to the empty chair.
"Suppose you sit down again?" she suggested. "The course of our
interview seems to have brought us back to the question that I
asked you when you came into my room. Instead of threatening me
with the law, suppose you consider the propriety of permitting me
to be of some use to you. I am in the habit of assisting ladies
in embarrassed circumstances, and nobody knows of it but my
steward--who keeps the accounts--and myself. Once more, let me
inquire if a little advance of the pecuniary sort (delicately
offered) would be acceptable to you?"
Grace returned slowly to the chair that she had left. She stood
by it, with one hand grasping the top rail, and with her eyes
fixed in mocking scrutiny on Lady Janet's face.
"At last your ladyship shows your hand," she said. "Hush-money!"
"You _will_ send me back to my papers," rejoined Lady Janet. "How
obstinate you are!"
Grace's hand closed tighter and tighter round the rail of the
chair. Without witnesses, without means, without so much as a
refuge--thanks to her own coarse cruelties of language and
conduct-- in the sympathies of others, the sense of her isolation
and her helplessness was almost maddening at that final moment. A
woman of finer sensibilities would have instantly left the room.
Grace's impenetrably hard and narrow mind impelled her to meet
the emergency in a very different way. A last base vengeance, to
which Lady Janet had voluntarily exposed herself, was still
within her reach. "For the present," she thought, "there is but
one way of being even with your ladyship. I can cost you as much
"Pray make some allowances for me," she said. "I am not
obstinate--I am only a little awkward at matching the audacity of
a lady of high rank. I shall improve with practice. My own
language is, as I am painfully aware, only plain English. Permit
me to withdraw it, and to substitute yours. What advance is your
ladyship (delicately) prepared to offer me?"
Lady Janet opened a drawer, and took out her check-book.
The moment of relief had come at last! The only question now left
to discuss was evidently the question of amount. Lady Janet
considered a little. The question of amount was (to her mind) in
some sort a question of conscience as well. Her love for Mercy
and her loathing for Grace, her horror of seeing her darling
degraded and her affection profaned by a public exposure, had
hurried her--there was no disputing it--into treating an injured
woman harshly. Hateful as Grace Roseberry might be, her father
had left her, in his last moments, with Lady Janet's full
concurrence, to Lady Janet's care. But for Mercy she would have
been received at Mablethorpe House as Lady Janet's companion,
with a salary of one hundred pounds a year. On the other hand,
how long (with such a temper as she had revealed) would Grace
have remained in the service of her protectress? She would
probably have been dismissed in a few weeks, with a year's salary
to compensate her, and with a recommendation to some suitable
employment. What would be a fair compensation now? Lady Janet
decided that five years' salary immediately given, and future
assistance rendered if necessary, would represent a fit
remembrance of the late Colonel Roseberry's claims, and a liberal
pecuniary acknowledgment of any harshness of treatment which
Grace might have sustained at her hands. At the same time, and
for the further satisfying of her own conscience, she determined
to discover the sum which Grace herself would consider sufficient
by the simple process of making Grace herself propose the terms.
"It is impossible for me to make you an offer," she said, "for
this reason--your need of money will depend greatly on your
future plans. I am quite ignorant of your future plans.''
"Perhaps your ladyship will kindly advise me?" said Grace,
"I cannot altogether undertake to advise you," Lady Janet
replied. "I can only suppose that you will scarcely remain in
England, where you have no friends. Whether you go to law with me
or not, you will surely feel the necessity of communicating
personally with your friends in Canada. Am I right?"
Grace was quite quick enough to understand this as it was meant.
Properly interpreted, the answer signified--"If you take your
compensation in money, it is understood, as part of the bargain
that you don't remain in England to annoy me."
"Your ladyship is quite right," she said. "I shall certainly not
remain in England. I shall consult my friends--and," she added,
mentally, "go to law with you afterward, if I possibly can, with
your own money!"
"You will return to Canada," Lady Janet proceeded; "and your
prospects there will be, probably, a little uncertain at first.
Taking this into consideration, at what amount do you estimate,
in your own mind, the pecuniary assistance which you will
"May I count on your ladyship's, kindness to correct me if my own
ignorant calculations turn out to be wrong?" Grace asked,
Here again the words, properly interpreted, had a special
signification of their own: "It is stipulated, on my part, that I
put myself up to auction, and that my estimate shall be regulated
by your ladyship's highest bid." Thoroughly understanding the
stipulation, Lady Janet bowed, and waited gravely.
Gravely, on her side, Grace began.
"I am afraid I should want more than a hundred pounds," she said.
Lady Janet made her first bid. "I think so too."
"More, perhaps, than two hundred?"
Lady Janet made her second bid. "Probably."
"More than three hundred? Four hundred? Five hundred?"
Lady Janet made her highest bid. "Five hundred pounds will do,"
In spite of herself, Grace's rising color betrayed her
ungovernable excitement. From her earliest childhood she had been
accustomed to see shillings and sixpences carefully considered
before they were parted with. She had never known her father to
possess so much as five golden sovereigns at his own disposal
(unencumbered by debt) in all her experience of him. The
atmosphere in which she had lived and breathed was the
all-stifling one of genteel poverty. There was something horrible
in the greedy eagerness of her eyes as they watched Lady Janet,
to see if she was really sufficiently in earnest to give away
five hundred pounds sterling with a stroke of her pen.
Lady Janet wrote t he check in a few seconds, and pushed it
across the table.
Grace's hungry eyes devoured the golden line, "Pay to myself or
bearer five hundred pounds," and verified the signature beneath,
"Janet Roy." Once sure of the money whenever she chose to take
it, the native meanness of her nature instantly asserted itself.
She tossed her head, and let the check lie on the table, with an
overacted appearance of caring very little whether she took it or
"Your ladyship is not to suppose that I snap at your check," she
Lady Janet leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. The very
sight of Grace Roseberry sickened her. Her mind filled suddenly
with the image of Mercy. She longed to feast her eyes again on
that grand beauty, to fill her ears again with the melody of that
"I require time to consider--in justice to my own self-respect,"
Grace went on.
Lady Janet wearily made a sign, granting time to consider.
"Your ladyship's boudoir is, I presume, still at my disposal?"
Lady Janet silently granted the boudoir.
"And your ladyship's servants are at my orders, if I have
occasion to employ them?"
Lady Janet suddenly opened her eyes. "The whole household is at
your orders," she cried, furiously. "Leave me!"
Grace was far from being offended. If anything, she was
gratified-- there was a certain triumph in having stung Lady
Janet into an open outbreak of temper. She insisted forthwith on
"In the event of my deciding to receive the check," she said, "I
cannot, consistently with my own self-respect, permit it to be
delivered to me otherwise than inclosed. Your ladyship will (if
necessary) be so kind as to inclose it. Good-evening."
She sauntered to the door, looking from side to side, with an air
of supreme disparagement, at the priceless treasures of art which
adorned the walls. Her eyes dropped superciliously on the carpet
(the design of a famous French painter), as if her feet
condescended in walking over it. The audacity with which she had
entered the room had been marked enough; it shrank to nothing
before the infinitely superior proportions of the insolence with
which she left it.
The instant the door was closed Lady Janet rose from her chair.
Reckless of the wintry chill in the outer air, she threw open one
of the windows. "Pah!" she exclaimed, with a shudder of disgust,
"the very air of the room is tainted by her!"
She returned to her chair. Her mood changed as she sat down
again--her heart was with Mercy once more. "Oh, my love!" she
murmured "how low I have stooped, how miserably I have degraded
myself--and all for You!" The bitterness of the retrospect was
unendurable. The inbred force of the woman's nature took refuge
from it in an outburst of defiance and despair. "Whatever she has
done, that wretch deserves it! Not a living creature in this
house shall say she has deceived me. She has _not_ deceived
me--she loves me! What do I care whether she has given me her
true name or not! She has given me her true heart. What right had
Julian to play upon her feelings and pry into her secrets? My
poor, tempted, tortured child! I won't hear her confession. Not
another word shall she say to any living creature. I am
mistress--I will forbid it at once!" She snatched a sheet of
notepaper from the case; hesitated, and threw it from her on the
table. "Why not send for my darling?" she thought. "Why write?"
She hesitated once more, and resigned the idea. "No! I can't
trust myself! I daren't see her yet!"
She took up the sheet of paper again, and wrote her second
message to Mercy. This time the note began fondly with a familiar
form of address.
"MY DEAR CHILD--I have had time to think and compose myself a
little, since I last wrote, requesting you to defer the
explanation which you had promised me. I already understand (and
appreciate) the motives which led you to interfere as you did
downstairs, and I now ask you to entirely abandon the
explanation. It will, I am sure, be painful to you (for reasons
of your own into which I have no wish to inquire) to produce the
person of whom you spoke, and as you know already, I myself am
weary of hearing of her. Besides, there is really no need now for
you to explain anything. The stranger whose visits here have
caused us so much pain and anxiety will trouble us no more. She
leaves England of her own free will, after a conversation with me
which has perfectly succeeded in composing and satisfying her.
Not a word more, my dear, to me, or to my nephew, or to any other
human creature, of what has happened in the dining-room to-day.
When we next meet, let it be understood between us that the past
is henceforth and forever _buried to oblivion_. This is not only
the earnest request--it is, if necessary, the positive command,
of your mother and friend,
"P.S.--I shall find opportunities (before you leave your room) of
speaking separately to my nephew and to Horace Holmcroft. You
need dread no embarrassment, when you next meet them. I will not
ask you to answer my note in writing. Say yes to the maid who
will bring it to you, and I shall know we understand each other."
After sealing the envelope which inclosed these lines, Lady Janet
addressed it, as usual, to "Miss Grace Roseberry." She was just
rising to ring the bell, when the maid appeared with a message
from the boudoir. The woman's tones and looks showed plainly that
she had been made the object of Grace's insolent self-assertion
as well as her mistress.
"If you please, my lady, the person downstairs wishes--"
Lady Janet, frowning contemptuously, interrupted the message at
the outset . "I know what the person downstairs wishes. She has
sent you for a letter from me?"
"Yes, my lady."
" She has sent one of the men-servants, my lady, for a cab. If
your ladyship had only heard how she spoke to him!"
Lady Janet intimated by a sign that she would rather not hear.
She at once inclosed the check in an undirected envelope.
"Take that to her," she said, "and then come back to me."
Dismissing Grace Roseberry from all further consideration, Lady
Janet sat, with her letter to Mercy in her hand, reflecting on
her position, and on the efforts which it might still demand from
her. Pursuing this train of thought, it now occurred to her that
accident might bring Horace and Mercy together at any moment, and
that, in Horace's present frame of mind, he would certainly
insist on the very explanation which it was the foremost interest
of her life to suppress. The dread of this disaster was in full
possession of her when the maid returned.
"Where is Mr. Holmcroft?" she asked, the moment the woman entered
"I saw him open the library door, my lady, just now, on my way
"Was he alone?"
"Yes, my lady."
"Go to him, and say I want to see him here immediately."
The maid withdrew on her second errand. Lady Janet rose
restlessly, and closed the open window. Her impatient desire to
make sure of Horace so completely mastered her that she left her
room, and met the woman in the corridor on her return. Receiving
Horace's message of excuse, she instantly sent back the
peremptory rejoinder, "Say that he will oblige me to go to him,
if be persists in refusing to come to me. And, stay!" she added,
remembering the undelivered letter. "Send Miss Roseberry's maid
here; I want her."
Left alone again, Lady Janet paced once or twice up and down the
corridor--then grew suddenly weary of the sight of it, and went
back to her room. The two maids returned together. One of them,
having announced Horace's submission, was dismissed. The other
was sent to Mercy's room with Lady Janet's letter. In a minute or
two the messenger appeared again, with the news that she had
found the room empty.
"Have you any idea where Miss Roseberry is?"
"No, my lady."
Lady Janet reflected for a moment. If Horace presented himself
without any needless delay, the plain inference would he that she
had succeeded in separating him from Mercy. If his appearance was
suspiciously deferred, she decided on personally searching for
Mercy in the reception rooms on the lower floor of the house.
"What have you done with
the letter?" she asked.
"I left it on Miss Roseberry's table, my lady."
"Very well. Keep within hearing of the bell, in case I want you
Another minute brought Lady Janet's suspense to an end. She heard
the welcome sound of a knock at her door from a man's hand.
Horace hurriedly entered the room.
"What is it you want with me, Lady Janet?" he inquired, not very
"Sit down, Horace, and you shall hear."
Horace did not accept the invitation. "Excuse me," he said, "if I
mention that I am rather in a hurry."
"Why are you in a hurry?"
"I have reasons for wishing to see Grace as soon as possible."
"And _I_ have reasons," Lady Janet rejoined, "for wishing to
speak to you about Grace before you see her; serious reasons. Sit
Horace started. "Serious reasons?" he repeated. "You surprise
"I shall surprise you still more before I have done "
Their eyes met as Lady Janet answered in those terms. Horace
observed signs of agitation in her, which he now noticed for the
first time. His face darkened with an expression of sullen
distrust--and he took the chair in silence.
LADY JANET'S LETTER.
THE narrative leaves Lady Janet and Horace Holmcroft together,
and returns to Julian and Mercy in the library.
An interval passed--a long interval, measured by the impatient
reckoning of suspense--after the cab which had taken Grace
Roseberry away had left the house. The minutes followed each
other; and still the warning sound of Horace's footsteps was not
heard on the marble pavement of the hall. By common (though
unexpressed) consent, Julian and Mercy avoided touching upon the
one subject on which they were now both interested alike. With
their thoughts fixed secretly in vain speculation on the nature
of the interview which was then taking place in Lady Janet's
room, they tried to speak on topics indifferent to both of
them--tried, and failed, and tried again. In a last and longest
pause of silence between them, the next event happened. The door
from the hall was softly and suddenly opened.
Was it Horace? No--not even yet. The person who had opened the
door was only Mercy's maid.
"My lady's love, miss; and will you please to read this
Giving her message in those terms, the woman produced from the
pocket of her apron Lady Janet's second letter to Mercy, with a
strip of paper oddly pinned round the envelope. Mercy detached
the paper, and found on the inner side some lines in pencil,
hurriedly written in Lady Janet's hand. They ran thus.
"Don't lose a moment in reading my letter. And mind this, when H.
returns to you--meet him firmly: say nothing."
Enlightened by the warning words which Julian had spoken to her,
Mercy was at no loss to place the right interpretation on those
strange lines. Instead of immediately opening the letter, she
stopped the maid at the library door. Julian's suspicion of the
most trifling events that were taking place in the house had
found its way from his mind to hers. "Wait!" she said. "I don't
understand what is going on upstairs; I want to ask you
The woman came back--not very willingly.
"How did you know I was here?" Mercy inquired.
"If you please, miss, her ladyship ordered me to take the letter
to you some little time since. You were not in your room, and I
left it on your table."
"I understand that. But how came you to bring the letter here?"
"My lady rang for me, miss. Before I could knock at her door she
came out into the corridor with that morsel of paper in her
"So as to keep you from entering her room?"
"Yes, miss. Her ladyship wrote on the paper in a great hurry, and
told me to pin it round the letter that I had left in your room.
I was to take them both together to you, and to let nobody see
me. 'You will find Miss Roseberry in the library' (her ladyship
says), 'and run, run, run! there isn't a moment to lose!' Those
were her own words, miss."
"Did you hear anything in the room before Lady Janet came out and
The woman hesitated, and looked at Julian.
"I hardly know whether I ought to tell you, miss."
Julian turned away to leave the library. Mercy stopped him by a
motion of her hand.
"You know that I shall not get you into any trouble," she said to
the maid. "And you may speak quite safely before Mr. Julian
Thus re-assured, the maid spoke.
"To own the truth, miss, I heard Mr. Holmcroft in my lady's room.
His voice sounded as if he was angry. I may say they were both
angry--Mr. Holmcroft and my lady." (She turned to Julian.) "And
just before her ladyship came out, sir, I heard your name, as if
it was you they were having words about. I can't say exactly what
it was; I hadn't time to hear. And I didn't listen, miss; the
door was ajar; and the voices were so loud nobody could help
It was useless to detain the woman any longer. Having given her
leave to withdraw, Mercy turned to Julian.
"Why were they quarreling about you?" she asked.
Julian pointed to the unopened letter in her hand.
"The answer to your question may be there," he said. "Read the
letter while you have the chance. And if I can advise you, say so
With a strange reluctance she opened the envelope. With a sinking
heart she read the lines in which Lady Janet, as "mother and
friend," commanded her absolutely to suppress the confession
which she had pledged herself to make in the sacred interests of
justice and truth. A low cry of despair escaped her, as the cruel
complication in her position revealed itself in all its unmerited
hardship. "Oh, Lady Janet, Lady Janet!" she thought, "there was
but one trial more left in my hard lot--and it comes to me from
She handed the letter to Julian. He took it from her in silence.
His pale complexion turned paler still as he read it. His eyes
rested on her compassionately as he handed it back.
"To my mind," he said, "Lady Janet herself sets all further doubt
at rest. Her letter tells me what she wanted when she sent for
Horace, and why my name was mentioned between them."
"Tell me!" cried Mercy, eagerly.
He did not immediately answer her. He sat down again in the chair
by her side, and pointed to the letter.
"Has Lady Janet shaken your resolution?" he asked.
"She has strengthened my resolution," Mercy answered. "She has
added a new bitterness to my remorse."
She did not mean it harshly, but the reply sounded harshly in
Julian's ears. It stirred the generous impulses, which were the
strongest impulses in his nature. He who had once pleaded with
Mercy for compassionate consideration for herself now pleaded
with her for compassionate consideration for Lady Janet. With
persuasive gentleness he drew a little nearer, and laid his hand
on her arm.
"Don't judge her harshly," he said. "She is wrong, miserably
wrong. She has recklessly degraded herself; she has recklessly
tempted you. Still, is it generous--is it even just--to hold her
responsible for deliberate sin? She is at the close of her days;
she can feel no new affection; she can never replace you. View
her position in that light, and you will see (as I see) that it
is no base motive which has led her astray. Think of her wounded
heart and her wasted life--and say to yourself forgivingly, She
Mercy's eyes filled with tears.
"I do say it!" she answered. "Not forgivingly--it is _I_ who have
need of forgiveness. I say it gratefully when I think of her--I
say it with shame and sorrow when I think of myself."
He took her hand for the first time. He looked, guiltlessly
looked, at her downcast face. He spoke as he had spoken at the
memorable interview between them which had made a new woman of
"I can imagine no crueler trial," he said, "than the trial that
is now before you. The benefactress to whom you owe everything
asks nothing from you but your silence. The person whom you have
wronged is no longer present to stimulate your resolution to
speak. Horace himself (unless I am entirely mistaken) will not
hold you to the explanation that you have promised. The
temptation to keep your false position in this house is, I do not
scruple to say, all but irresistible. Sister and friend! can you
still justify my fa ith in you? Will you still own the truth,
without the base fear of discovery to drive you to it?"
She lifted her head, with the steady light of resolution shining
again in her grand, gray eyes. Her low, sweet voice answered him,
without a faltering note in it,
"You will do justice to the woman whom you have wronged--unworthy
as she is; powerless as she is to expose you?"
"You will sacrifice everything you have gained by the fraud to
the sacred duty of atonement? You will suffer anything--even
though you offend the second mother who has loved you and sinned
for you-- rather than suffer the degradation of yourself?"
Her hand closed firmly on his. Again, and for the last time, she
His voice had not trembled yet. It failed him now. His next words
were spoken in faint whispering tones--to himself; not to her.
"Thank God for this day!" he said. "I have been of some service
to one of the noblest of God's creatures!"
Some subtle influence, as he spoke, passed from his hand to hers.
It trembled through her nerves; it entwined itself mysteriously
with the finest sensibilities in her nature; it softly opened her
heart to a first vague surmising of the devotion that she had
inspired in him. A faint glow of color, lovely in its faintness,
stole over her face and neck. Her breathing quickened tremblingly
. She drew her hand away from him, and sighed when she had
He rose suddenly to his feet and left her, without a word or a
look, walking slowly down the length of the room. When he turned
and came back to her, his face was composed; he was master of
Mercy was the first to speak. She turned the conversation from
herself by reverting to the proceedings in Lady Janet's room.
"You spoke of Horace just now," she said, "in terms which
surprised me. You appeared to think that he would not hold me to
my explanation. Is that one of the conclusions which you draw
from Lady Janet's letter?"
"Most assuredly," Julian answered. "You will see the conclusion
as I see it if we return for a moment to Grace Roseberry's
departure from the house."
Mercy interrupted him there. "Can you guess," she asked, "how
Lady Janet prevailed upon her to go?"
"I hardly like to own it," said Julian. "There is an expression
in the letter which suggests to me that Lady Janet has offered
her money, and that she has taken the bribe."
"Oh, I can't think that!"
"Let us return to Horace. Miss Roseberry once out of the house,
but one serious obstacle is left in Lady Janet's way. That
obstacle is Horace Holmcroft."
"How is Horace an obstacle?"
"He is an obstacle in this sense. He is under an engagement to
marry you in a week's time; and Lady Janet is determined to keep
him (as she is determined to keep every one else) in ignorance of
the truth. She will do that without scruple. But the inbred sense
of honor in her is not utterly silenced yet. She cannot, she dare
not, let Horace make you his wife under the false impression that
you are Colonel Roseberry's daughter. You see the situation? On
the one hand, she won't enlighten him. On the other hand, she
cannot allow him to marry you blindfold. In this emergency what
is she to do? There is but one alternative that I can discover.
She must persuade Horace (or she must irritate Horace) into
acting for himself, and breaking off the engagement on his own
Mercy stopped him. "Impossible!" she cried, warmly. "Impossible!"
"Look again at her letter," Julian rejoined. "It tells, you
plainly that you need fear no embarrassment when you next meet
Horace. If words mean anything, those words mean that he will not
claim from you the confidence which you have promised to repose
in him. On what condition is it possible for him to abstain from
doing that? On the one condition that you have ceased to
represent the first and foremost interest of his life."
Mercy still held firm. "You are wronging Lady Janet, " she said .
Julian smiled sadly.
"Try to look at it," he answered, ''from Lady Janet's point of
view. Do you suppose _she_ sees anything derogatory to her in
attempting to break off the marriage? I will answer for it, she
believes she is doing you a kindness. In one sense it _would_ be
a kindness to spare you the shame of a humiliating confession,
and to save you (possibly) from being rejected to your face by
the man you love. In my opinion, the thing is done already. I
have reasons of my own for believing that my aunt will succeed
far more easily than she could anticipate. Horace's temper will
Mercy's mind began to yield to him, in spite of herself.
"What do you mean by Horace's temper?" she inquired.
"Must you ask me that?" he said, drawing back a little from her.
"I mean by Horace's temper, Horace's unworthy distrust of the
interest that I feel in you."
She instantly understood him. And more than that, she secretly
admired him for the scrupulous delicacy with which he had
expressed himself. Another man would not have thought of sparing
her in that way. Another man would have said, plainly, "Horace is
jealous of me."
Julian did not wait for her to answer him. He considerately went
"For the reason that I have just mentioned," he said, "Horace
will be easily irritated into taking a course which, in his
calmer moments, nothing would induce him to adopt. Until I heard
what your maid said to you I had thought (for your sake) of
retiring before he joined you here. Now I know that my name has
been introduced, and has made mischief upstairs, I feel the
necessity (for your sake again) of meeting Horace and his temper
face to face before you see him. Let me, if I can, prepare him to
hear you without any angry feeling in his mind toward you. Do you
object to retire to the next room for a few minutes in the event
of his coming back to the library?"
Mercy's courage instantly rose with the emergency. She refused to
leave the two men together.
"Don't think me insensible to your kindness," she said. "If I
leave you with Horace I may expose you to insult. I refuse to do
that. What makes you doubt his coming back?"
"His prolonged absence makes me doubt it," Julian replied. "In my
belief, the marriage is broken off. He may go as Grace Roseberry
has gone. You may never see him again."
The instant the opinion was uttered, it was practically
contradicted by the man himself. Horace opened the library door.
HE stopped just inside the door. His first look was for Mercy;
his is second look was for Julian.
"I knew it!" he said, with an assumption of sardonic composure.
"If I could only have persuaded Lady Janet to bet, I should have
won a hundred pounds." He advanced to Julian, with a sudden
change from irony to anger. "Would you like to hear what the bet
was?" he asked.
"I should prefer seeing you able to control yourself in the
presence of this lady," Julian answered, quietly.
"I offered to lay Lady Janet two hundred pounds to one," Horace
proceeded, "that I should find you here, making love to Miss
Roseberry behind my back."
Mercy interfered before Julian could reply.
"If you cannot speak without insulting one of us," she said,
"permit me to request that you will _not_ address yourself to Mr.
Horace bowed to her with a mockery of respect.
"Pray don't alarm yourself--I am pledged to be scrupulously civil
to both of you," he said. "Lady Janet only allowed me to leave
her on condition of my promising to behave with perfect
politeness. What else can I do? I have two privileged people to
deal with--a parson and a woman. The parson's profession protects
him, and the woman's sex protects her. You have got me at a
disadvantage, and you both of you know it. I beg to apologize if
I have forgotten the clergyman's profession and the lady's sex."
"You have forgotten more than that," said Julian. "You have
forgotten that you were born a gentleman and bred a man of honor.
So far as I am concerned, I don't ask you to remember that I am a
clergyman--I obtrude my profession on nobody--I only ask you to
remember your birth and your breeding. It is quite bad enough to
cruelly and unjustly suspect an old f riend who has never
forgotten what he owes to you and to himself. But it is still
more unworthy of you to acknowledge those suspicions in the
hearing of a woman whom your own choice has doubly bound you to
He stopped. The two eyed each other for a moment in silence.
It was impossible for Mercy to look at them, as she was looking
now, without drawing the inevitable comparison between the manly
force and dignity of Julian and the womanish malice and
irritability of Horace. A last faithful impulse of loyalty toward
the man to whom she had been betrothed impelled her to part them,
before Horace had hopelessly degraded himself in her estimation
by contrast with Julian.
"You had better wait to speak to me," she said to him, "until we
"Certainly," Horace answered with a sneer, "if Mr. Julian Gray
will permit it."
Mercy turned to Julian, with a look which said plainly, "Pity us
both, and leave us!"
"Do you wish me to go?" he asked.
"Add to all your other kindnesses to me," she answered. "Wait for
me in that room."
She pointed to the door that led into the dining-room. Julian
"You promise to let me know it if I can be of the smallest
service to you?" he said.
"Yes, yes!" She followed him as he withdrew, and added, rapidly,
in a whisper, "Leave the door ajar!"
He made no answer. As she returned to Horace he entered the
dining-room. The one concession he could make to her he did make.
He closed the door so noiselessly that not even her quick hearing
could detect that he had shut it.
Mercy spoke to Horace, without waiting to let him speak first.
"I have promised you an explanation of my conduct," she said, in
accents that trembled a little in spite of herself. "I am ready
to perform my promise."
"I have a question to ask you before you do that," he rejoined.
"Can you speak the truth?"
"I am waiting to speak the truth."
"I will give you an opportunity. Are you or are you not in love
with Julian Gray?"
"You ought to be ashamed to ask the question!"
"Is that your only answer?"
"I have never been unfaithful to you, Horace, even in thought. If
I had _not_ been true to you, should I feel my position as you
see I feel it now?"
He smiled bitterly. "I have my own opinion of your fidelity and
of his honor," he said. "You couldn't even send him into the next
room without whispering to him first. Never mind that now. At
least you know that Julian Gray is in love with you."
"Mr. Julian Gray has never breathed a word of it to me."
"A man can show a woman that he loves her, without saying it in
Mercy's power of endurance began to fail her. Not even Grace
Roseberry had spoken more insultingly to her of Julian than
Horace was speaking now. "Whoever says that of Mr. Julian Gray,
lies!" she answered, warmly.
"Then Lady Janet lies," Horace retorted.
"Lady Janet never said it! Lady Janet is incapable of saying it!"
"She may not have said it in so many words; but she never denied
it when _I_ said it. I reminded her of the time when Julian Gray
first heard from me that I was going to marry you: he was so
overwhelmed that he was barely capable of being civil to me. Lady
Janet was present, and could not deny it. I asked her if she had
observed, since then, signs of a confidential understanding
between you two. She could not deny the signs. I asked if she had
ever found you two together. She could not deny that she had
found you together, this very day, under circumstances which
justified suspicion. Yes! yes! Look as angry as you like! you
don't know what has been going on upstairs. Lady Janet is bent on
breaking off our engagement--and Julian Gray is at the bottom of
As to Julian, Horace was utterly wrong. But as to Lady Janet, he
echoed the warning words which Julian himself had spoken to
Mercy. She was staggered, but she still held to her own opinion.
"I don't believe it," she said, firmly.
He advanced a step, and fixed his angry eyes on her searchingly.
"Do you know why Lady Janet sent for me?" he asked.