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paused for a little while; hia variable manner changed again. Mercy, shyly looking at him, saw a new expression in his eyes—an expression which recalled her first remembrance of him as nothing had recalled it yet. 'I had no idea,' he resumed,'of what the life of a farm-labourer really was, in some parts of England, until I undertook the rector's duties. Never before had I seen such dire wretchedness as I saw in the cottages. Never before had I met with such noble patience under suffering as I found among the people. The martyrs of old could endure, and die. I asked myself if they could endure, and live, like the martyrs whom I saw round me ?—live, week after week, month after month, year after year, on the brink of starvation; live, and see their pining children growing up round them, to work and want in their turn; live, with the poor man's parish-prison to look to as the end, when hunger and labour have done their worst! Was God's beautiful earth made to hold such misery as this? I can hardly think of it, I can hardly speak of it, even now, with dry eyes!'
His head sank on his breast. He waited—mastering his emotion before he spoke again. Now, at last, she knew him once more. Now he was the man, indeed, whom she had expected to see. Unconsciously, she sat listening, with her eyes fixed on his face, with her heart hanging on his words, in the very attitude of the bygone day, when she had heard him for the first time!
'I did all I could to plead for the helpless ones,' he resumed. 'I went round among the holders of the land to say a word for the tillers of the land. "These patient people don't want much " (I said); "in the name of Christ, give them enough to live on!" Political Economy shrieked at the horrid proposal; the Laws of Supply and Demand veiled their majestic faces in dismay. Starvation wages were the right wages, I was told. And why? Because the labourer was obliged to accept them! I determined, so far as one man could do it, that the labourer should not be obliged to accept them. I collected my own resources—I wrote to my friends—and I removed some of the poor fellows to parts of England where their work was better paid. Such was the conduct which made the neighbourhood too hot to hold me. So let it lie! I mean to go on. I am known in London; I can raise subscriptions. The vile Laws of Supply and Demand shall find labour scarce in that agricultural district; and pitiless Political Economy shall spend a few extra shillings on the poor, as certainly as I am that Radical, Communist, and Incendiary—Julian Gray!'
He rose—making a little gesture of apology for the warmth with which he had spoken—and took a turn in the room. Fired by his enthusiasm, Mercy followed him. Her purse was in her hand, when he turned and faced her.
'Pray let me offer my little tribute—such as it is!' she said, eagerly.
A momentary flush spread over his pale cheeks as he looked at the beautiful compassionate face pleading with him.
'No! no!' he said, smiling, * though I am a parson, I don't carry the begging-box everywhere.' Mercy attempted to press the purse on him. The quaint humour began to twinkle again in his eyes as he abruptly drew back from it. 'Don't tempt me!' he said. 'The frailest of all human creatures is a clergyman tempted by a subscription.' Mercy persisted, and conquered; she made him prove the truth of his own profound observation of clerical human nature by taking a piece of money from the purse. 'If I must take it —I must!' he remarked. 'Thank you for setting the good example! thank you for giving the timely help! What name shall I put down on my list?'
Mercy's eyes looked confusedly away from him. 'No name,' she said, in a low voice. 'My subscription is anonymous.'
As she replied, the library door opened. To her infinite relief—to Julian's secret disappointment—Lady Janet Roy and Horace Holmcroft entered the room together.
'Julian!' exclaimed Lady Janet, holding up her hands in astonishment.
He kissed his aunt on the cheek. 'Your ladyship is looking charmingly.' He gave his hand to Horace. Horace took it, and passed on to Mercy. They walked away together slowly to the other end of the room. Julian seized on the chance which left him free to speak privately to his aunt.
'I came in through the conservatory,' he said. 'And I found that young lady in the room. Who is she?'
'Are you very much interested in her?' asked Lady Janet, in her gravely ironical way.
Julian answered in one expressive word. 'Indescribably!'
Lady Janet called to Mercy to join her.
'My dear,' she said, 'let me formally present my nephew to you. Julian, this is Miss Grace Roseberry
'She suddenly checked herself. The instant she
pronounced the name, Julian started as if it was a surprise to him. 'What is it ?' she asked, sharply.
'Nothing,' he answered, bowing to Mercy, with a marked absence of his former ease of manner. She returned the courtesy a little restrainedly on her side. She too had seen him start when Lady Janet mentioned the name by which she was known. The start meant something. What could it be? Why did he turn aside, after bowing to her, and address himself to Horace, with an absent look in his face, as if his thoughts were far away from his words? A complete change had come over him; and it dated from the moment when his aunt had pronounced the name that was not her name—the name that she had stolen!
Lady Janet claimed Julian's attention, and left Horace free to return to Mercy. 'Your room is ready for you,' she said. 'You will stay here, of course?' Julian accepted the invitation—still with the air of a man whose mind was preoccupied. Instead of looking at his aunt when he made his reply, he looked round at Mercy, with a troubled curiosity in his face, very strange to see. Lady Janet tapped him impatiently on the shoulder. 'I expect people to look at me when people speak to me,' she said. 'What are you staring at my adopted daughter for?'
'Your adopted daughter?' Julian repeated—looking at his aunt this time, and looking very earnestly.
'Certainly! As Colonel Roseberry's daughter, she is connected with me by marriage already. Did you think I had picked up a foundling?'
Julian's face cleared; he looked relieved. 'I had forgotten the Colonel,' he answered. 'Of course the young lady is related to us, as you say.'
'Charmed, I am sure, to have satisfied you that Grace is not an impostor,' said Lady Janet, with satirical humility. She took Julian's arm, and drew him out of hearing of Horace and Mercy. 'About that letter of yours?' she proceeded. 'There is one line in it that rouses my curiosity. Who is the mysterious "lady" whom you wish to present to me?'
Julian started, and changed colour.
'I can't tell you now,' he said, in a whisper.
To Lady Janet's unutterable astonishment, instead of replying, Julian looked round at her adopted daughter once more.
'What has she got to do with it?' asked the old lady, out of all patience with him.
'It is impossible for me to tell you,' he answered gravely,'while Miss Roseberry is in the room.'