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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.
1 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 when 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 enquiry on Julian's face.
'How is it possible that temptation can come to me now?' she asked.
'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 enquired. lHe, 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 asks me.'
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 towards 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 him.
'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 her mind.
'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;
my only alternative is to get the thing over as soon as possible. Do you mind \vaiting? ’ ‘Certainly not. Have you any idea of what Lady Janet wants with you ? ’ ‘ 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 anyone in.’ With those words, he left her. Mercy’s first sensation was a sensation of reliefsoon 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 I’ The slow minutes followed eacli 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 \vhich 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 firelight. 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