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suspense. The first trifling movement which suggested the idea of change, and which so brought with it the first vague sense of relief, came from Mercy. Incapable of sustaining the prolonged effort of standing, she drew back a little, and took a chair. No outward manifestation of emotion escaped her. There she sat —with the death-like torpor of resignation in her face—waiting her sentence in silence from the man at whom she had hurled the whole terrible confession of the truth in one sentence.
Julian lifted his head as she moved. He looked once more at Horace, and drew back a few steps. There was fear in his face, as he suddenly turned it towards Mercy.
'Speak to him!' he said in a whisper. 'Kouse him, before it's too late!'
She moved mechanically in her chair; she looked mechanically at Julian.
'What more have I to say to him?' she asked in faint, weary tones. 'Did I not tell him everything when I told him my name?'
The natural sound of her voice might have failed to affect Horace. The altered sound of it roused him. He approached Mercy's chair, with a dull surprise in his face, and put his hand in a weak, wavering way on her shoulder. In that position he stood for awhile, looking down at her in silence.
The one idea in him that found its way outwards to expression was the idea of Julian. Without moving his hand, without looking up from Mercy, he spoke for the first time since the shock had fallen on him.
'Where is Julian?' he asked, very quietly.
'I am here, Horace—close by you.'
'Will you do me a service?'
'Certainly. How can I help you?'
He considered a little before he replied. His hand left Mercy's shoulder, and went up to his head—then dropped at his side. His next words were spoken in a sadly helpless, bewildered way.
'I have an idea, Julian, that I have been somehow to blame. I said some hard words to you. It was a little while since. I don't clearly remember what it was all about. My temper has been a good deal tried in this house; I have never been used to the sort of thing that goes on here—secrets and mysteries, and hateful, low-lived quarrels. We have no secrets and mysteries at home. And as for quarrels—ridiculous! My mother and my sisters are highly-bred women (you know them); gentlewomen, in the best sense of the word. When I am with them I have no anxieties. I am not harassed at home by doubts of who people are, and confusion about names, and so on. I suspect the contrast weighs a little on my mind, and upsets it. They make me over-suspicious among them here—and it ends in my feeling doubts and fears that I can't get over; doubts about you, and fears about myself. I have got a fear about myself now. I want you to help me. Shall I make an apology first?'
'Don't say a word. Tell me what I can do.'
He turned his face towards Julian for the first time.
'Just look at me,' he said. 'Does it strike you
that I am at all wrong in my mind? Tell me the truth, old fellow.'
'Your nerves are a little shaken, Horace. Nothing more.'
He considered again, after that reply; his eyes remaining anxiously fixed on Julian's face.
'My nerves are a little shaken,' he repeated. 'That is true; I feel they are shaken. I should like, if you don't mind, to make sure that it's no worse. Will you help me to try if my memory is all right?'
'I will do anything you like.'
'Ah! you are a good fellow, Julian—and a clearheaded fellow, too, which is very important just now. Look here! I say it's about a week since the troubles began in this house. Do you say so too?'
'The troubles came in with the coming of a woman from Germany, a stranger to us, who behaved very violently in the dining-room there. Am I right, so far?'
'The woman carried matters with a high hand. She claimed Colonel Roseberry—no, I wish to be strictly accurate—she claimed the late Colonel Roseberry as her father. She told a tiresome story about her having been robbed of her papers and her name by an impostor who had personated her. She said the name of the impostor was Mercy Merrick. And she afterwards put the climax to it all: she pointed to the lady who is engaged to be my wife, and declared that she was Mercy Merrick. Tell me again, is that right or wrong?'
Julian answered him as before. He went on, speaking more confidently and more excitedly than he had spoken yet.
'Now attend to this, Julian. I am going to pass from my memory of what happened a week ago to my memory of what happened five minutes since. You were present; I want to know if you heard it too.' He paused, and, without taking his eyes off Julian, pointed backwards to Mercy. 'There is the lady who is engaged to marry me,' he resumed. 'Did I, or did I not, hear her say that she had come out of a Refuge, and that she was going back to a Refuge? Did I, or did I not, hear her own to my face that her name was Mercy Merrick? Answer me, Julian. My good friend, answer me for the sake of old times.'
His voice faltered as he spoke these imploring words. Under the dull blank of his face there appeared the first signs of emotion slowly forcing its way outwards. The stunned mind was reviving faintly. Julian saw his opportunity of aiding the recovery, and seized it. He took Horace gently by the arm and pointed to Mercy.
'There is your answer!' he said. 'Look!—and pity her.'
She had not once interrupted them while they had been speaking: she had changed her position again, and that was all. There was a writing-table at the side of her chair; her outstretched arms rested on it. Her head had dropped on her arms, and her face was hidden. Julian's judgment had not misled him; the utter selfabandonment of her attitude answered Horace as no human language could have answered him. He looked at her. A quick spasm of pain passed across his face. He turned once more to the faithful friend who had forgiven him. His head fell on Julian's shoulder, and he burst into tears.
Mercy started wildly to her feet and looked at the two men.
'0 God!' she cried, 'what have I done!'
Julian quieted her by a motion of the hand.
'You have helped me to save him,' he said. * Let his tears have their way. Wait.'
He put one arm round Horace to support him. The manly tenderness of the action, the complete and noble pardon of past injuries which it implied, touched Mercy to the heart. She went back to her chair. Again shame and sorrow overpowered her, and again she hid her face from view.
Julian led Horace to a seat, and silently waited by him until he had recovered his self-control. He gratefully took the kind hand that had sustained him; he said simply, almost boyishly, 'Thank you, Julian. I am better now.'
'Are you composed enough to listen to what is said to you?' Julian asked.
'Yes. Do you wish to speak to me?'
Julian left him without immediately replying, and returned to Mercy.
'The time has come,' he said. 'Tell him all— truly, unreservedly, as you would tell it to me.'
She shuddered as he spoke. 'Have I not told him enough?' she asked. 'Do you want me to break his heart? Look at him! See what I have done already!'