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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 bad inspired in him. A faint glow of colour, 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 released it.
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 himself again.
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 hrihe.'
'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 everyone else) in ignorance of the truth. She will do that without scruple. But the inbred sense of honour 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 responsibility.'
Mercy stopped him. 'Impossible!' she eried 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 wauld 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 help her.'
Mercy's mind began to yield to him in spite of herself.
'What do you mean by Horace's temper?' she enquired.
'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 lor her to answer him. He considerately went on.
* For the reason that I have just mentioned,' he said, 'Horace will he 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 towards me. 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.
CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIFTH.
He stopped just inside the door. His first look was for Mercy; his 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. Julian Gray.'
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 replied. '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