A Dramatic Story,
IN A PROLOGUE AND THREE ACTS.
(Represented for the first time in London at the Olympic Theatre,
May 19th, 1873.)
[Entered at Stationer's Hall]
PUBLISHED BY THE AUTHOR,
90, GLOUCESTER PLACE, PORTMAN SQUARE.
All Rights Reserved
Scene.-- The scene represents a bedroom in a cottage on the frontier of France and Germany. A side-door on the right; a window closed by a shutter on the right. A bed on the left, standing back in a corner. Above the bed, a shelf projecting from the wall, with a small handlooking-glass and some household utensils on it. A round table and two chairs on the right. On the table, writing materials, a box of matches, and a burning candle. Behind the table, in a corner, some empty sacks, thrown on the floor. At the back, in the centre, an arched opening, screened by a canvas curtain, and supposed to lead into an outer room. On the left, a fireplace, with the red embers of a wood fire burning in it. Time, night.
On the rise of the curtain, the FRENCH CAPTAIN is discovered, seated at the table, reading some letters. The FRENCH SURGEON lifts the curtain at the back and enters the room.
The Surgeon. Captain, are we safe here for the night?
The Captain. Surgeon, why do you ask that question?
The Surgeon. I ask it in the interests of our wounded men. I have got them in that room (he points to the outer room) under shelter for the first time for four-and-twenty hours. It would be a thousand pities to move them, without a pressing reason for it. What would you advise me to do?
The Captain. I have no advice to give you.
The Surgeon. Surely, you ought to know!
The Captain. My friend, I know two things only. First--that we have surprised a skirmishing party of the Germans, and driven them back over the frontier. Second--that we are in possession of this cottage, and strongly posted on the ground about it. There my information ends. Here are the intercepted papers of the enemy (he holds them up). They tell me nothing that I can rely on. For all I know to the contrary, the main body of the Germans--out-numbering us ten to one--may be nearer to this cottage than the main body of the French. Decide for yourself what you will do.
The Surgeon. I decide to run the risk, and leave the men in peace, on their straw. (The CAPTAIN rises.) Where are you going?
The Captain. To visit the outposts.
The Surgeon. Shall you want this room for a little while?
The Captain. Not for hours to come. Are you thinking of moving your wounded men in here?
The Surgeon. I was thinking of the English lady who remains on our hands, now the Germans are driven back. She would be more comfortable here than in the outer room. And the English nurse attached to the ambulance might keep her company.
The Captain. I have no objection. Let the ladies come in when they like. How is the weather? Still raining?
The Surgeon. Pouring. And as dark as pitch.
The Captain. The darker the better. The Germans won't see us. Good night!
(He goes out on the right. The SURGEON lifts the curtain at the back, and calls into the outer room.)
The Surgeon. Miss Merrick!
Mercy (from the room). Yes?
The Surgeon. Have you time enough to take a little rest?
Mercy (as before). Plenty of time.
The Surgeon. Come in, then, and bring the English lady with you. Here is a quiet room all to yourselves.
(He draws aside the curtain. MERCY MERRICK, dressed as a nurse in black merino, with plain collar and cuffs, and with the red cross of the Geneva Convention round her left arm, enters, leading GRACE ROSEBERRY. GRACE is dressed in a long grey cloak which entirely covers her.)
Mercy. Thank you, Surgeon. (The SURGEON bows and goes out at the back. MERCY continues, addressing GRACE.) Will you take a chair, madam?
Grace (cordially). Don't call me madam. My name is GRACE ROSEBERRY. What is your name?
Mercy. Not a pretty name, like yours. (After a moment's hesitation.) Mercy Merrick.
(They seat themselves on the left.)
Grace. How can I thank you for your sisterly kindness to a stranger like me?
Mercy. Don't speak of it.
Grace. I must speak of it. What a situation you found me in, when the German forces were in retreat! My travelling carriage stopped; my horses seized; I myself in a strange country at nightfall, robbed of my money and my luggage, and drenched to the skin by the pouring rain! I am indebted to you for safety and for shelter. I am wearing your clothes. I should have died of the fright and the exposure, but for you. What return can I make for such services as these?
Mercy. May I ask you a question?
Grace. A hundred questions, if you like!
Mercy. How came you to risk crossing the frontier in war-time?
Grace (seriously). I had urgent reasons for returning to England.
Mercy. Alone! without any one to protect you?
Grace (as before). I have left my only protector--my father--in the English burial-ground at Rome. My mother died years since in Canada. (MERCY starts.) Do you know Canada?
Grace. Were you ever at Port Logan?
Mercy. I once lived within a few miles of Port Logan.
Grace. Among the French settlers, or the English?
Mercy. Among the French. (She changes the subject.) Let us return to your position here. Your relatives in England must be very anxious about you?
Grace. I have no relatives in England. You can hardly imagine a person more friendless than I am. We quitted Canada, when my father's health failed, to try the climate of Italy, by the doctor's advice. His death has left me, not only friendless but poor. (She produces from an inner pocket of her cloak a small leather letter-case.) My prospects in life are all contained in this poor little case. Here is the one treasure I contrived to conceal when I was robbed of my other things.
Mercy. Does your case contain money?
Grace. No; only a few family papers, and a letter from my father, introducing me to an elderly lady in England--a connection of his by marriage. The lady has consented to receive me as companion and reader. If I delay my return to England some other person may get the place.
Mercy. Surely, there can be no danger of that? The lady would prefer waiting for you to engaging a stranger.
Grace. I am a stranger.
Mercy. You have never seen the lady?
Grace. I have never seen the lady.
Mercy. Have you no other resource?
Grace. None. My education has been neglected--we led a wild life in the far West. I am quite unfit to go out as a governess--I am absolutely dependent on this stranger, who receives me for my father's sake. (She puts back the letter-case.) Mine is a sad story, is it not?
Mercy (bitterly). There are sadder stories than yours. There are thousands of miserable women who would ask for no greater blessing than to change places with You.
Grace (astonished). What can there possibly be to envy in such a lot as mine?
Mercy (sternly). Your unblemished character, and your prospect of being established honourably in a respectable house.
Grace. How strangely you say that! Is there some romance in your life? Why have you sacrificed yourself to the terrible duties which claim you here? You interest me indescribably! Let us be friends. (MERCY roughly pushes her back.) Ah, you are cruel!
Mercy (sternly). I am kind!
Grace. Is it kind to keep me at a distance?
Mercy. Don't tempt me to speak out. You will regret it.
Grace. I have placed confidence in you. It is ungenerous to lay me under an obligation--and then to shut me out of your confidence in return.
Mercy. You will have it? Sit down again. (GRACE draws her chair nearer to MERCY.) No--not near me, till you have heard what I have to say. (She pauses--her head droops--she continues sadly, without looking at GRACE.) In your mother's lifetime, were you ever out with her at night, in the streets of a great city?
Grace (surprised). I don't understand you.
Mercy (gently). I will put it in another way. Have you ever read in the newspapers of your unhappy fellow-creatures--the starving outcasts of the population--whom Want has driven into Sin?
Grace (as before). Certainly.
Mercy. Have you heard--when those starving and sinning fellow-creatures happened to be women--of Refuges established to protect and reclaim them?
Grace (startled). These are extraordinary, questions. What do you mean?
Mercy. Have you heard of the Refuges? Have you heard of the women?
Grace (unwillingly). Yes.
Mercy. I was once one of those women!
Grace (starting back with a cry of horror). Oh!!!
Mercy (calmly). I have been in a refuge. I have been in a prison. Do you still wish to be my friend? Do you still insist on sitting close by me, and taking I my hand? (With a sad smile) You see you were wrong when you called me cruel--and I was right when I told you I was kind.
Grace (confusedly). I don't wish to offend you----
Mercy (as quietly as before). You don't offend me. I am accustomed to stand in the pillory of my past life. I sometimes ask myself if it was all my fault. I sometimes wonder if Society had no duty towards me when I was a child selling matches in the street--when I was a hard-working girl, fainting at my needle for want of food. It is too late to dwell on these things now. Society can subscribe to reclaim me; but Society can't take me back. You see me here in a place of trust; patiently, humbly, doing all the good I can. It doesn't matter! Once let my past story be known, and the shadow of it covers me, the kindest people shrink.
Grace (at a loss what to say). I am very sorry for you.
Mercy. Everybody is sorry for me. But the lost place is not to be regained. I can't get back! I can't get back! Shall I tell you what my experience has been? Will you hear the story of Magdalen, in modern times?
Grace (aside, distrustfully). What is she going to tell me?
Mercy (overhearing her). Nothing that a young lady may not hear. My story shall begin in the Refuge. The matron sent me out to service, with the character that I had honestly earned--the character of a reclaimed woman. I justified the confidence placed in me; I was a faithful servant. One day my mistress sent for me--a kind mistress, if ever there was one yet. "Mercy, I am sorry for you; it has come out that I took you from a Refuge; I shall lose every servant in the house; you must go." I went back to the matron--another kind woman. She received me like a mother. "We will try again, Mercy: don't be cast down." I told you that I had been in Canada?
Mercy. My next place was in that colony, with an officer's wife. Gentlefolks who had emigrated. More kindness; and, this time, a pleasant, peaceful life for me. I said to myself, "Is the lost place regained? Have l got back?" My mistress died. New people came into our neighbourhood. There was a young lady among them. My master began to think of another wife. I have the misfortune (in my situation) of being what is called handsome; I excite the curiosity of strangers. The new people asked questions about me. My master's answers did not satisfy them. In a word, they found me out. The old story again! "Mercy, I am very sorry; scandal is busy with you and with me; we are innocent; but there is no help for it, we must part." I went back again to the matron. Sickness had broken out in the Refuge. I made myself useful as a nurse. One of the doctors was struck with me--fell in love with me, as the phrase is. He would have married me. The matron, as an honest woman, was bound to tell him the truth. He never appeared again. The old story! I began to weary of saying to myself, "I can't get back! I can't get back!" Despair got hold of me--the despair that hardens the heart. I might have committed suicide. I might even have drifted back into the darkness of my old life, but for one man.
Grace. A man who befriended you?
Mercy. A man who doesn't know that such a person as I am is in existence.
Grace. And yet----?
Mercy. And yet he saved me. One Sunday our regular clergymen at the Refuge was not able to officiate. His place in the pulpit was taken by a stranger--quite a young man: the matron told us his name was Julian Gray. I sat under the shadow of the gallery where I could see him, without his seeing me. His text was from the words, "Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth--" you know the rest. What happier women might have thought of his sermon I cannot say. There was not a dry eye among us at the Refuge. As for me, the hard despair melted in me at the sound of his voice. He touched my heart as no man has touched it before or since. From that time I have been a patient woman. I might have been a happy woman, if I had had courage enough to speak to Julian Gray.
Grace. What were you afraid of?
Mercy. I was afraid of making my hard life harder still. Must I tell it in plain words? (Her voice falters.) I was afraid I might interest him in my sorrows, and might set my heart on him in return.
Grace (astonished). You!
Mercy. I surprise you? Ah, my young lady, you don't know what rough usage a woman's heart can bear, and still beat truly! Before I saw Julian Gray, I only knew men as objects of horror to me. Let us drop the subject! The preacher at the Refuge is nothing but a remembrance now--the one welcome remembrance of my life. (She rises.) You have heard my story. Society--thanks to my friend the matron--has found a use for me here. My hand is as light, my words of comfort are as welcome, among these suffering men (she points to the outer room) as if I was the most reputable woman breathing. And if a stray shot comes my way before the war is over--well! Society will be rid of me on easy terms.
Grace. Don't talk so! (She hesitates, and takes refuge in a commonplace phrase.) If there is anything I could do for you----?
Mercy (aside). She might take my hand. No! (To Grace.) Can you change my identity? Can you give me the name and the place of an innocent woman? if I only had your chance! if I only had your reputation and your prospects! No more of that! Stay here while I go back to my work. I will see that your clothes are dried. You shall wear my clothes as short a time as possible! (She opens the window shutter.) The sky is clearing. In a few hours more you may resume your journey--the morning will dawn. (She turns to go into the outer room. At the same moment the French surgeon draws aside the curtain, and enters with signs of agitation in his face and manner. MERCY addresses him.) What news?
The Surgeon. The Germans are advancing on us.
(GRACE clasps her hands in terror.)
Mercy. Do we defend the position?
The Surgeon. Impossible! We are outnumbered, as usual. (A drum is heard in the distance.) There is the retreat sounded. In five minutes more we must be out of this place.
Grace (to the Surgeon). Take me with you! Oh! sir, don't, don't let me fall into their hands again!
Mercy (to the Surgeon). What is to become of the sick and wounded?
The Surgeon. We can take the strongest of them away with us. The others must be left here. There will be a place in the baggage waggon for you.
Grace. And for me, too?
Mercy (to the Surgeon). Take her in the waggon. My place is with the suffering wretches whom you leave behind.
Grace (hurrying the Surgeon out). Let us go! let us go!
The Surgeon (releasing himself). Compose yourself, madam. When the waggon is ready, I will return and fetch you.
(He goes out by the centre opening. The report of rifle-shots is heard in the distance.)
Grace (with a cry of terror). What's that?
Mercy (calmly opening the shutter). The Germans are attacking the French outposts
Grace. Take me away! We shall be killed if we stay here! (She looks in astonishment at MERCY.) Are you made of iron? Will nothing frighten you?
Mercy (quietly). I have nothing worth living for.
(A second report of rifle-shots is heard. GRACE starts back, with a scream.)
Grace. The bullets are flying into the room. I heard one of them go by me. (She points.) There it is in the wall! Close the shutter!
(She springs forward to close the shutter. At the same moment the rifle-shots are heard in a volley. GRACE staggers back, and falls near the bed, struck by a bullet. The SURGEON reappears at the opening in the centre.)
The Surgeon. Any harm done?
Mercy. I am afraid she is wounded. (She yields her place to the Surgeon.) See if she is badly hurt.
The Surgeon. Take off her cloak--the fastening is twisted round her neck. (MERCY unfastens the cloak.) Bring the candle. Quick!--we have no time to lose. (He lays his hand on GRACE'S heart. MERCY brings the candle. The SURGEON continues, pointing to the place.) The bullet has struck her on the head. Don't trouble yourself to hold the light any longer. I can do nothing for her.
The Surgeon. Dead! (MERCY replaces the light on the table. The SURGEON leaves the body near the bed. The cloak falling off remains on the floor.) The vanguard of the Germans is in sight--we must leave her there. Come away before it is too late.
Mercy. You have had my answer. Go! (The SURGEON retires. MERCY remains near the bedside, and looks at GRACE.) Not five minutes since I was longing to change places with her! Even now I ask myself, Why should death have taken her, and spared me? (Placing the cloak on a chair and listening.) The French resistance has ceased. The Germans are advancing on the cottage. (MERCY looks back at the bed.) She spoke of a lady in England, who would receive her for her father's sake. Ought I to write to that lady? Yes. (She takes GRACE'S letter-case from the pocket of her cloak, and produces the various papers from the case, after examination, in the order in which she names them.) Letters from her father and her mother. A journal of her own, kept at Rome. A last letter in a pocket, by itself. This must be the letter of introduction! (She reads the address.) "Lady Janet Roy, Mablethorpe House, Kensington, London." (She takes out the letter--reads it to herself--then speaks.) What a chance she has lost! A woman of rank and fortune waiting to receive her! (She looks towards the bed.) There she lies--beyond the reach of Lady Janet's kindness; beyond the need of Lady Janet's help! And here I am, in the prime of my health and my strength, without a prospect in the world! Oh, Fate! Fate! If she could be Mercy Merrick; and if I could be Grace Roseberry--now! (She pauses with the letter-case in her hand--reflects a moment, and starts violently.) Why not? I may be Grace Roseberry--if I dare! (She holds up the case in triumph, and goes on with feverish rapidity.) I have only to keep this, and present myself to Lady Janet in her place. She said herself that she and Lady Janet had never seen each other. Her relations are dead. I know the place where she lived in Canada. I have got her journal at Rome to put me up to what happened there. I have no accomplished lady to personate. She spoke herself--her father's letter speaks--of her neglected education. Where is the danger of discovery? And what injury am I doing to a woman who is dead? Everything is in my favour. The people who knew me here have gone to return no more. She has got my clothes on--my linen, marked with my name. Her own clothes, marked with her name, are drying in the next room. I have only to put them on, and I need never see the Refuge again. (Another pause. Her tone and manner alter.) The Refuge! What did Julian Gray say in his sermon of falsehood and deceit? (The tramp of footsteps and the clash of arms are heard outside. MERCY conceals the letter-case in her dress.) The Germans are here! In a moment more I shall be asked for my name. (She looks at her dress.) If I give her name, my nurse's dress may betray me. (She takes the grey cloak from the chair and puts it on.) Now I can decide as I please! Which name shall it be? Her name, or mine?
(Footsteps and voices are heard in the outer room. IGNATIUS WETZEL appears at the back, and looks in. The curtain falls again behind him.)
Wetzel (speaking to himself). A woman sick or wounded. Another woman in attendance on her. And no one else in the room. (He draws aside the curtain and speaks off.) No necessity, major, for setting a guard here. The surgeon is wanted--not the soldier. (He goes to the bed.)
Horace (outside). Major, find me a quiet room to write in. (He enters). This room will do. (He observes MERCY, and speaks aside.) By Jupiter! what a handsome woman. (To MERCY.) Are you French?
Mercy. I am English.
Wetzel (to MERCY). Can I be of any assistance here?
Mercy. Your services are useless, sir.
Wetzel. Has the body been examined by a medical man?
Mercy. By the surgeon attached to the French ambulance.
Wetzel. I don't believe in French surgeons. (To HORACE.) Mr. Englishman, lend a hand here, and help me to place her on the bed.
(WETZEL and HORACE lift GRACE and place her on the bed. HORACE addresses MERCY.)
Horace. Is she a countrywoman of yours?
Mercy (confusedly). I believe so. We met here by accident. I know nothing of her.
Wetzel. Not even her name?
Mercy (aside). I daren't give her my name! (To WETZEL.) No--not even her name.
(WETZEL gets the candle and returns to the bedside. He places the candle on the shelf above the bed, and looks attentively at GRACE.)
Horace (to MERCY). Pardon me for saying so--you are very young to be alone in war-time in such a place as this.
Wetzel (to himself, looking at GRACE). She reminds me a little of one of my daughters. Let me look again at the wound that killed her. (He examines GRACE'S head.
Horace (to MERCY). The action will be renewed round this cottage by daylight. You ought really to be in a place of safety. My name is Horace Holmcroft. I am an officer in the English army. I can be of use to you if you will let me.
Mercy (surprised). How can you help me?
Horace. I can pass you through the German lines, and forward you on your way to England.
Mercy. You must possess extraordinary influence, sir, to be able to do that.
Horace (smiling). I possess the influence that no one can resist--the influence of the press. I am serving here as war correspondent of one of our great English newspapers. If I ask him the commanding officer will grant you a pass. He is just outside there. (HORACE points to the door on the right.) What do you say?
Mercy (deciding). I accept your offer, sir.
Horace. I am rejoiced to hear it. I will be back directly. (He goes out on the right. MERCY remains at the table.)
Mercy (to herself.) Have I gone too far to draw back? No! I have not yet presented myself to Lady Janet in Grace Roseberry's place.
Wetzel (to himself, still absorbed over GRACE). Wounded in the head; no injury that I can discover, except the injury to the head. What's this half in and half out of her pocket? (He draws out a white handkerchief.) Is her name marked here, I wonder? (He examines the corners of the handkerchief.)
Mercy (continuing). If I resist the temptation, what prospect lies before me? Nothing but the Refuge again! If I yield (she produces the letter-case), here is an honest woman's place offered to me on the one condition that I stoop to win it by a trick. I am weary of the hopeless struggle. I will win it! (She puts back the letter-case.)
Wetzel (turning suddenly to MERCY). Here is her name marked on her handkerchief! (He holds up the handkerchief.)
Mercy (aside). The handkerchief that I lent to her!
Wetzel (reading the mark on the handkerchief). "Mercy Merrick."
Mercy (aside). His lips have said it!
Wetzel (to MERCY). "Mercy Merrick" is an English name, isn't it?
Mercy (shortly). Yes.
(HORACE re-enters on the right.)
Horace. I have not overrated my interest. Here is the pass. I must fill it up with your name. Have you pen and ink at hand?
(MERCY points to the writing materials on the table. HORACE joins her there, and prepares to write. WETZEL addresses MERCY without leaving the bed.)
Wetzel. Are you going away?
Wetzel (to HORACE). Are you going away too?
Horace. I am going to see this lady through the lines. (WETZEL takes a chair, and seats himself at the bed-head. HORACE continues to MERCY.) What is your name?
Mercy (with an effort). Grace Roseberry.
Horace. Miss? (MERCY bows. HORACE writes as he speaks.) "Miss Grace Roseberry--British subject." Do you wish to return to England? (MERCY bows again. HORACE writes, repeating the words.) "Returning to her friends in England." (He dries the ink with the sandbox.) That will be enough. (He rises, and gives MERCY the pass.) I will take you through the lines myself, and arrange for your being sent on by the railway. Where is your luggage?
Mercy. In one of the outhouses. I will be ready in a few minutes. How am I to get by the sentinel?
Horace. You have only to show your pass. Shall I wait for you here, or outside the cottage?
Mercy (aside, looking at WETZEL). I don't like that man--he has a way of asking questions. (To HORACE.) Outside the cottage.
(She withdraws by the outer room. HORACE notices WETZEL, still sitting with his eyes fixed on GRACE.)
Horace. You seem to be interested, doctor. Anything remarkable in the manner of that poor creature's death?
Wetzel (gruffly). Nothing to put in the newspapers, sir!
Horace. Interesting to a doctor, eh?
Wetzel (as before). Yes. Interesting to a doctor. (HORACE goes out on the right. WETZEL looks round him to see that the room is empty, then calls to his assistant in the outer room.) Max!
Max (appearing). Yes, sir.
Wetzel. Look for my black bag, and bring it here. (He warms into some enthusiasm, and takes a turn in the room.) The French surgeon examines this woman's wound--and certifies to her death. I examine her--and what do I find? Life suspended by pressure on the brain. Max! (The assistant enters, and gives his master the bag. WETZEL goes to the table and speaks, while he produces some surgical instruments from the bag.) You remember the battle of Sadowa, Max? And the Austrian soldier I operated on, for a wound in the head? (MAX bows.) I am not satisfied with the result of that operation. I succeeded in saving the man's life--but I failed to give him back his reason along with it. There is a similar case on that bed. Follow me, and hold the candle. I am going to see if I can save the life, and the reason, too--this time.
(He bends over GRACE, with his back to the audience. MAX holds the candle. In the silence that follows, the voice of the nearest sentinel is heard outside, passing MERCY through the lines.)
The First Sentinel (close outside). Pass the English lady!
Wetzel (to MAX--pausing in the operation). Put the candle on the shelf, and take down that looking-glass. (MAX obeys.) Hold it over her mouth--I am going to lift the broken bone. (He proceeds with the operation.)
The Second Sentinel (farther off). Pass the English lady!
Wetzel (with one hand on GRACE'S head). Wait! Give her a moment more. Now show me the glass. (MAX shows it.) The surface is dimmed. She breathes! she lives!
The Third Sentinel (just audible in the distance). Pass the English lady!
PERSONS OF THE STORY.
A POLICE OFFICER (in plain clothes)
LADY JANET ROY.
(AN INTERVAL OF FOUR MONTHS IS SUPPOSED TO HAVE ELAPSED BETWEEN THE PROLOGUE AND THE FIRST ACT.)
SCENE.--The dining-room at Mablethorpe House. An entrance at the back, opening into a conservatory. The room richly furnished. Doors at the side, right and left.
At the rise of the curtain, LADY JANET ROY and HORACE HOLMCROFT are discovered seated at the luncheon-table, on the right-hand side of the stage. MERCY MERRICK (now known under the assumed name of GRACE ROSEBERRY) has risen from the table, and stands between LADY JANET and the conservatory.
Mercy. May I go back to the flowers, Lady Janet?
Lady J. Certainly, my love.
(MERCY goes into the conservatory, occasionally appearing and disappearing during the dialogue that follows, as if occupied in attending to the flowers.)
Lady J. Take some French pie, Horace?
Horace. No, thank you, Lady Janet.
Lady J. Some more chicken, then?
Horace. No more chicken.
Lady J. Will nothing tempt you?
Horace. I will take some more wine, if you will allow me. (He fills his glass).
Lady J. The air of Kensington doesn't appear to suit you, my young friend. The longer you have been my guest at Mablethorpe House, the less you eat and the oftener you fill your glass and empty your cigar-case. Those are bad signs in a young man. Are you ill?
Lady J. You were sent home wounded, nearly three months since. Does your wound still pain you?
Horace. Not in the least!
Lady J. Then what is the matter with you? Are you out of spirits?
Lady J. I don't allow anybody to be out of spirits in my house. I consider it to be a reflection on ME. If your quiet life here doesn't suit you, find something to do. There is employment to be had, I suppose, if you choose to apply for it.
Horace. Certainly. The war is still going on. The newspaper has offered to send me out again as correspondent.
Lady J. Don't speak of the newspapers and the war.
Horace. Why not?
Lady J. I detest the newspapers! I won't allow the newspapers to enter the house! I lay the whole blame of the bloodshed between France and Germany at their door.
Horace. My dear Lady Janet, what can you possibly mean? Are the newspapers responsible for the war?
Lady J. Entirely responsible. Why, you don't understand the age you live in! Does anybody do anything nowadays (fighting included), without wanting to see it in the newspapers? I subscribe to a charity; thou art presented with a testimonial; he preaches a sermon; we suffer a grievance; you make a discovery; they go to church and get married. And I, thou, he, we, you, and they, all want one and the same thing--we want to see it in the papers! Are kings, soldiers, and diplomatists, exceptions to the general rule of humanity? Not they! I tell you seriously, if the newspapers of Europe had one and all decided not to take the smallest notice in print of the war between France and Germany, it is my firm conviction that the war would have come to an end for want of encouragement long since. Let the pen cease to advertise the sword, and I for one can see the result. No report--no fighting.
Horace (satirically). Your views have the merit of novelty, ma'am, at any rate. Would you object to see them in the newspapers?
Lady J. Don't I live in the latter part of the nineteenth century? In the newspapers? In large type, Horace, if you love me! What were we talking of?
Horace. Of me. Never mind that. I want to speak to you about Grace Roseberry.
Lady J. And what has Grace Roseberry done?
Horace. She persists in prolonging our engagement. Nothing will persuade her to fix the day for our marriage.
Lady J. Why are you in such a hurry?
Horace. Hurry? Why it's four months since I first saw Grace, reckoning from our meeting in the French cottage. Ah! how that meeting dwelt on my memory afterwards! She was alone, Lady Janet, in a wretched little room, with a poor dead woman laid on the cottage bed. How nobly she behaved in the solitude and the peril! How beautiful she looked in her plain grey cloak! How kindly she welcomed me back to England, when I met her again, established in this house!
Lady J. Pardon me for interrupting your raptures. What do you complain of?
Horace. Grace has been engaged to me for at least six weeks, and I am not her husband yet. And when I complain of it, you say that I am in a hurry.
Lady J. (satirically). I withdraw the assertion. I ought to have remembered that this is an age of progress. Everything is done in a hurry now.
Horace (pursuing his thoughts) . Do you know, Lady Janet, I sometimes fancy Grace has a motive for deferring our marriage--a motive which she is afraid to confide to me.
Lady J. (anxiously). What makes you think that?
Horace. I have once or twice caught her in tears. Every now and then--sometimes when she is talking quite gaily--she suddenly changes colour and becomes silent and depressed. Only this morning, she looked at me in the strangest way--almost as if she was sorry for me. What do these things mean?
Lady J. You foolish boy, the meaning is plain enough. Grace has been out of health for some time past. The doctor recommends change of air.
Horace. If she wants change of air, let me take charge of her on our honeymoon trip. Do use your influence, Lady Janet. My mother and my sisters have written to Grace and have produced no effect. Help me to persuade her. Speak to her to-day.
Lady J. (relenting). Must I?
Horace. You have known me since I was a boy.
Lady J. And you presume on it. Go to the smoking-room and cultivate the favourite vice of the nineteenth century. (They both rise.) Go and smoke! go and smoke!
(She good-humouredly pushes HORACE out by the door on the right.)
Lady J. (alone). He is not very wise, though he does write in the newspapers. But on this occasion he is really right. He bears an excellent character; he possesses a handsome fortune; his mother is ready to receive anybody connected with my family. Why should they not be married? As to Grace--whether she really has a motive for hanging back, or whether she is only fretting because she doesn't know her own mind---is more than I can say. I don't understand the young women of the present generation. In my time, when we were fond of a man, we were ready to marry him at a moment's notice. And this is an age of progress! They ought to be readier still. (She calls to MERCY.) Grace!
(MERCY enters from the conservatory.)
Mercy. You called me, Lady Janet?
Lady J. (leading her to a sofa on the left). I want to speak to you. You are very pale this morning, my child.
Mercy. I am not well. The slightest noises startle me. I feel tired if I only walk across the room.
Lady J. We must try what a change of air will do for you. Which shall it be--the Continent or the seaside?
Mercy. You are too kind to me, Lady Janet!
Lady J. It is impossible to be too kind to you.
Mercy (eagerly). Say that again!
Lady J. (surprised). Say it again?
Mercy. You will think me vain--I can't hear you say too often that you have learnt to like me. Is it really a pleasure to you to have me in the house?
Lady J. My dear child, do you remember what I said when you first came here? You offered me your poor father's letter of introduction. I took one look at you and put the letter aside unopened. "Your face is your introduction" (those were my words); "your father can say nothing for you which you have not said already for yourself." (MERCY turns her head aside quickly so as to hide her face from LADY JANET.) What is the matter?
Mercy (faintly). Nothing! nothing! Have I always behaved well, Lady Janet, since I have been with you?
Lady J. (speaking earnestly). I bless the day, Grace, when you first came to me. I don't believe I could be prouder of you if you were my own daughter.
Mercy (kissing her hand). Oh! how I like to hear you say that! (repeating the words rapturously to herself). "Your own daughter! your own daughter!"
Lady J. (aside). Now is the time to say a word for Horace! (To MERCY.) What shall I do, Grace, when the day comes for parting with my adopted daughter?
Mercy (starting). Why should I leave you?
Lady J. Surely, you know?
Mercy (earnestly). Indeed I don't. Tell me why.
Lady J. Ask Horace to tell you.
Mercy (understanding her, and suddenly relapsing into depression). Ah!
Lady J. (surprised). Grace!
Mercy (sadly). Yes?
Lady J. What does that sigh mean? You know your own heart? You have not engaged yourself to Horace Holmcroft without loving him?
Mercy. Oh, no!
Lady J. And yet----?
Mercy. Dear Lady Janet, I am in no hurry to be married. There will be plenty of time in the future to talk of that. You had something to say to me--what was it?
Lady J. (rising in astonishment, and taking a turn in the room). She doesn't even suspect that I want to speak to her about Horace! What are the young women of the present day made of? (A man-servant enters on the left, with a letter.) What do you want? I never rang for you.
The servant. A letter, my lady. (LADY JANET takes it.) The messenger waits for an answer.
(The Servant goes out on the left. LADY JANET, standing at some distance from MERCY, so as not to be overheard by her, opens the letter, and recognises the handwriting.)
Lady J. (to herself). From Julian Gray. (She reads the letter in a low tone.) "My dear aunt,--At last I have got back to London. May I follow my letter to Mablethorpe House? and may I present a lady to you--a perfect stranger--in whom I am interested? Send me a line by the bearer." (She looks up from the letter with a smile.) A lady in whom he is interested! Is Julian really going to be married at last? (She turns to MERCY.) Grace, I have got a note to write to my nephew.
Mercy. Your nephew? You never told me you had a nephew.
Lady J. "Out of sight, out of mind," my dear. My nephew has been away from London. However, you will make his acquaintance immediately. He is coming to see me to-day. Wait here till I return. I want to say something more to you about Horace.
(She goes out on the left.)
Mercy (alone). She loves me like a daughter--she blesses the day when I first came to her! Could the true Grace Roseberry have earned sweeter praise than that, if the true Grace Roseberry had lived to enter this house? Oh, if I could but confess what I have done! if my good conduct would only plead my excuse! how I should enjoy this innocent life--what a grateful, happy woman I could be! (She hides her face in her hands. There is a pause. She looks up again, struck by a sudden recollection.) What did she say when she left me just now? (She starts to her feet in alarm.) She is coming back to speak to me about Horace! What, in God's name, am I to do? I have been mad enough to love him. Can I be vile enough to let him drift blindfold into marriage with a woman like me? How am I to stop it? All his hopes are bound up in me. I shall break his heart, if I speak the cruel words that may part us for ever! I can't speak them! I won't speak them! The disgrace of it would kill me! Am I worse than another woman? Another woman might have married him for his money. Is that any excuse for me? Oh, that I had died before I came here! Oh, that I could die now! (She returns to the sofa, and seats herself in dogged despair. HORACE softly opens the door on the right, and looks in.)
Horace (to himself.) Has Lady Janet spoken to her? Is she waiting to see me? (He advances.) Grace!
Mercy (starting). I wish you wouldn't startle me in that way. Any sudden alarm sets my heart beating as if it would choke me.
Horace. I am very sorry--I didn't mean to alarm you. (He seats himself by her.) Have you seen Lady Janet?
Mercy (impatiently). Yes!
Horace. Has she said anything to you----?
Mercy (interrupting him). Have you asked her to speak to me about our marriage?
Horace. Don't be angry, Grace! Is it so very inexcusable to ask her to intercede for me? I have tried to persuade you in vain. My mother and my sisters have pleaded for me--and you turn a deaf ear to them.
Mercy (breaking out). I am weary of hearing of your mother and your sisters! You talk of nothing else!
Horace (rising, offended). It would be well if you followed their example, Grace. My mother and my sisters are not in the habit of speaking cruelly to those who love them.
(He crosses to the opposite side of the stage, and seats himself at the luncheon-table, on the right.)
Mercy (to herself). His mother and his sisters! It sickens me to hear of the virtues of women who have never been tempted! Has his mother known starvation? Have his sisters been left forsaken in the streets? He hardens my heart when he sets them up as patterns for me--he almost reconciles me to deceiving him! (She looks round at Horace. Her voice and manner change.) I have offended him! It's my fault. How should he know it, poor fellow, when he innocently mortifies me? (She rises, and, joining HORACE, stands by him with her hand on his shoulder). Forgive me, Horace. I am suffering this morning--I am not myself. I didn't mean what I said. Pray forgive me.
(HORACE looks up at her and gives her his hand. She touches his forehead with her lips. At the same moment, LADY JANET opens the door on the left, and sees them together.)
Lady Janet (in the doorway). My client is pleading for himself. I am not wanted evidently.
(She withdraws, softly closing the door.)
Horace (looking up at MERCY). My darling! If you only knew how I love you!
Mercy (tenderly). I do know it, Horace.
Horace. If you would only consent----
Mercy (moving away from him). Don't press me to-day. I am not well to-day.
Horace (rising and following her). May I speak about it to-morrow?
Mercy. Yes--to-morrow. (She returns to the sofa. HORACE follows her.) What a time Lady Janet is away! What can be keeping her so long?
Horace (behind the sofa, bending over her). Where is she?
Mercy. In the library, I believe, writing a note to her nephew.
Horace. Writing to Julian Gray?
Mercy (starting violently). What!!!
Horace (astonished). My dear Grace, what have I said or done to frighten you now?
Mercy (thunderstruck). Lady Janet's nephew is-- Julian Gray?
Horace. Didn't you know it?
Horace. Now you do know it, what is there to alarm you?
Mercy (controlling herself). Oh, nothing. I am not alarmed, only a little surprised.
Horace. I see! Julian is a famous man. His reputation as a preacher has reached you. Is he coming here, do you know?
Mercy (absently). Lady Janet said he was coming to-day.
Horace. Prepare yourself to see the most unclerical of clergymen. Smokes. Goes to the play. Preaches, if they ask him, in Dissenters' chapels. Declines to set up any pretensions to priestly power. Goes about doing good on a plan of his own. Is quite resigned never to rise to the high places in his profession. Says it's rising high enough for him to be the Archdeacon of the afflicted, the Dean of the hungry, and the Bishop of the poor! With all his oddities, as good a fellow as ever lived. Immensely popular with the women. They all go to him for advice. I wish you would go too.
Mercy (startled). What do you mean?
Horace (jesting). Julian is famous for his powers of persuasion. If he spoke to you, he would prevail on you to fix the day. Suppose I ask Julian to plead for me?
Mercy (aside, in terror). He will do it if I don't stop him! (To HORACE with a sudden change of manner.) Why are you standing there? Come and sit down. (She makes room for him on the sofa, and continues with an assumption of coquetry in her manner under which anxiety shows itself from time to time.) What were we saying just now, before we began to talk of--Mr. Julian Gray?
Horace. I was saying that I loved you.
Mercy. Only that?
Horace (putting his arm round her.) Are you tired of hearing it?
Mercy. Are you so very much in earnest about----?
Horace (eagerly) About our marriage?
Horace. It is the one dearest wish of my life!
Mercy (with her eyes on the ground). Really?
Mercy (as before). When would you like it to be?
Horace (amazed). Oh, Grace, you are not trifling with me?
Mercy. What makes you think I am trifling with you?
Horace. You wouldn't let me speak of our marriage just now.
Mercy. Never mind what I said just now. They say women are changeable. It is one of the defects of the sex.
Horace. Heaven be praised for the defects of the sex! May I really fix the day?
Mercy. If you insist on it.
Horace. We can be married by licence in a fortnight. (MERCY starts.) We might be married at once if the law would only let us. This day fortnight. Say--yes. (A pause. MERCY looks at him sadly.) Only one little word, Grace. Whisper it!
Mercy (with a sigh). Yes!
Horace. My angel, let us seal the promise! (He kisses her and springs to his feet.) Where is Lady Janet? I want to show the dear old lady that I have recovered my spirits, and to tell her why.
Mercy (absently). You know where to find her?
Horace. You won't go away?
Mercy. I will wait here.
(HORACE kisses his hand to her, and hastens out on the left.)
Mercy (alone). Am I awake or dreaming? Have I said the word which pledges me to marry him in a fortnight! (With sudden recklessness.) I don't care! Any alternative is preferable to an interview with Julian Gray. That man searched my inmost heart--when he was in the pulpit, and when I was only listening to him in the chapel. If he spoke to me as Horace proposed, how would it end? He would see my secret in my face; he would hear it in my voice; he would bring me to his feet with the shameful confession of the truth. Even now can I be sure that I shall not betray myself? Something in me shudders and shrinks at his coming. I feel it! I know it! My guilty conscience sees, and dreads its master, in Julian Gray.
(JULIAN'S voice is heard in the conservatory, as if speaking to a servant.)
Julian (outside). Never mind me, James. I shall find my way to Lady Janet.
Mercy (starting in terror to her feet). He is here! He is coming in!
(She hurries to the door on the left. At the moment when she opens it, JULIAN appears, entering from the conservatory. He is dressed in black, and wears a white cravat. Except that his frock coat is a little longer than usual, there is a studious avoidance of anything clerical in the make and form of his clothes.)
Julian. (gaily). Pray don't run away. I am nothing very formidable. Only Lady Janet's nephew--Julian Gray. (MERCY pauses, turns slowly as if spell-bound, and confronts him. in silence. His manner alters when he sees her. He speaks earnestly, in a tone of the deepest respect.) Let me entreat you to favour me by resuming your seat. And let me ask your pardon if I have thoughtlessly intruded on you. (MERCY bows, and silently returns to the sofa. Her agitation still keeps her silent. JULIAN walks away, a little to the right, and speaks aside.) No common sorrow has set its mark on that woman's face. No common heart beats in that woman's breast. Who can she be?
(MERCY controls herself, and addresses JULIAN, shyly.)
Mercy. Lady Janet is in the library, I believe. Shall I tell her you are here?
Julian. Don't disturb Lady Janet, and don't disturb yourself. (He takes a bottle of claret from the luncheon-table, and fills a glass.) My aunt's claret shall represent my aunt for the present. I have had a long walk, and I may venture to help myself in this house without invitation. Is it useless to offer you anything?
Mercy (wondering at his light way of talking). Thank you. Nothing.
Julian (after emptying his glass). My aunt's wine is worthy of my aunt--both are the genuine products of Nature. (He notices the French pie on the table.) What is this? A French pie! It seems grossly unjust to taste French wine and to pass over French pie without notice. (He seats himself at the table, and takes some of the pie.) Worthy of the Great Nation! -- Vive la France!
Mercy (aside, wondering at him). How strangely unlike what I fancied he would be!
Julian (eating and talking). I came here by way of Kensington Gardens. For some time past I have been living in a flat, ugly, barren, agricultural district. You can't think how pleasant I found the picture of the Gardens as a contrast on this bright winter's day. The smart nursery-maids and the lovely children, and the people skating on the ice of the Round Pond--all so exhilarating after what I have been used to, that I actually caught myself whistling as I walked through the brilliant scene. Who do you think I met, while I was in full song?
Mercy (still wondering.) I can't guess.
Julian. My bishop! If I had been whistling a sacred melody, his lordship might have excused my vulgarity out of consideration for my music. Unfortunately I was whistling an air from an opera--familiar, no doubt to his lordship on the street organs. When I took off my hat to him he looked the other way. (He lays down his knife and fork and speaks more seriously.) Strange; in a world that is bursting with sin and sorrow, to attach importance to such a trifle as a cheerful clergyman whistling a tune! I have never been able to see why we should set ourselves up as belonging to a particular caste, and as being forbidden, in any harmless thing, to do as other people do. One of the great obstacles in the way of our doing good among our fellow-creatures is raised by the mere assumption of the clerical costume and the clerical voice. For my part, I set up no claim to be more sacred or more reverend than any other Christian man who does what good he can. (He returns to the pie and resumes his livelier tone.) Are you a Radical? I am.
Mercy (astonished). A Radical!
Julian. Don't be alarmed. Public opinion has called me by harder names than that. I have been spending my time lately--as I told you just now--in an agricultural district. My business there was to perform the duty for the rector of the place, who wanted a holiday. How do you think the experiment has ended? The squire of the parish calls me a communist; the farmers denounce me as an incendiary; my friend the rector has been recalled in a hurry; and I have now the honour of speaking to you in the character of a banished man, who has made a respectable neighbourhood too hot to hold him. (He brings his chair nearer to the sofa.)
Mercy (aside). Can this be the preacher whom I heard at the Refuge?
Julian (seating himself). You will be naturally anxious to know what my offence was? Do you understand Political Economy and the laws of Supply and Demand?
Mercy (still wondering). No.
Julian. No more do I--in a Christian country. That was my offence. You shall hear my confession in two words. (His tone alters again; he speaks seriously.) I had no idea 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.
Mercy (aside). Now I begin to know him again!
Julian (continuing). I did all I could to plead for the helpless ones. I went round among the holders of the land to say a word for the tillers of the land. "They don't want much," I said; "in the name of Heaven, 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 other parts of England, where their work was better paid. Such was the conduct which made the neighbourhood too hot to hold me. It doesn't matter---I mean to go on. I am known in London--I can raise subscriptions. The laws of Supply and Demand shall find labour scarce in that agricultural district--and Political Economy shall spend a few extra shillings on the poor, as certainly as I am that radical, communist, and incendiary, Julian Gray. (He rises.)
Mercy (rising and taking out her purse). Allow me to offer my little tribute, such as it is.
Julian (in his lighter tone). No, no. Though I am a parson, I don't carry the begging-box everywhere. (MERCY opens her purse with a gesture of entreaty.) You persist? Don't tempt me. The frailest of all human creatures is a clergyman tempted by a subscription. (MERCY forces the money on him.) Must I take it? Thank you for setting the good example. Thank you for giving the timely help. What name shall I put down on the list?
Mercy (confusedly). No name. My subscription is anonymous. (The door on the left opens, LADY JANET appears dressed to go out, followed by HORACE. MERCY sees them, and directs JULIAN'S attention to them.) Here is Lady Janet.
Lady J. (surprised). Julian!
Julian. My dear aunt, you are looking charmingly. (He kisses LADY J. on the cheek, and gives his hand to HORACE.) How do you do, Horace?
Lady J. (to JULIAN). When did you come?
(MERCY and HORACE walk aside.)
Julian. About ten minutes since. (He whispers.) Who is the young lady?
Lady J. (slyly). Are you interested in her?
Lady J. (calling to MERCY). My dear! (MERCY approaches. LADY J. introduces JULIAN.) Let me formally introduce my nephew. Miss Grace Roseberry--(JULIAN starts.) What's the matter?
Mercy (aside). He started when he heard my name!
Julian. Don't trouble yourself to introduce me, Lady Janet. (He bows to MERCY.) I have already ventured to introduce myself. (He turns to HORACE.) Are you staying here, Horace?
Lady J. (to JULIAN). Your old room is ready for you, Julian, if you will stay too.
Julian. With the greatest pleasure. Don't let me disarrange any of your plans. Are you going out?
Lady J. (addressing MERCY). I have ordered the carriage, my dear, expressly on your account. The fine frosty air is sure to do you good.
Mercy. Thank you, Lady Janet. I will go and get ready. (She crosses to the door on the left, and looking back at JULIAN while she opens it, speaks aside.) Why did he start when he heard my name? (She goes out.)
Julian (eagerly to LADY J.). Where did you meet with that charming creature?
Lady J. Gently, Julian. That young lady is the daughter of a relative of ours by marriage--the late Colonel Roseberry. For the present she is living with me as my daughter----
Horace (interposing). And in a fortnight more she will be living with me--as my wife.
Julian (astonished). Your wife!
Horace (sharply). May I ask if you disapprove of the marriage?
Lady J. Nonsense, Horace. Julian congratulates you, of course.
Julian (mechanically). I congratulate you, of course.
Lady J. (to JULIAN). Talking of ladies and marriage, who is the lady you mentioned in your letter? Is she the future Mrs. Julian Gray?
Julian (seriously). She is a perfect stranger to me.
Lady J. A perfect stranger! You wrote me word you were interested in her.
Julian. Certainly, and, what is more, you are interested in her, too.
Lady J. No mysteries, Julian. Explain yourself.
Horace (to JULIAN). Am I in the way?
Julian. Not at all. As Miss Roseberry's future husband you are in your right place.
Horace. What has Miss Roseberry got to do with it?
Julian. Wait a little. You have heard me speak, aunt, of the English Consul at Mannheim?
Lady J. Yes--an old friend of yours.
Julian. I found a letter from the Consul waiting for me on my return to London. The letter presented to me a certain friendless English lady, who had a statement to make in which I might be interested. She had been traveling near the French frontier soon after the outbreak of the war, and she had been accidentally wounded by a German bullet.
Horace (starting). Can this be the woman whom I saw in the French cottage? I was told she had been killed by the bullet.
Julian. It may be the same. The person I speak of was restored to life by an operation. The surgeon was a German, named Ignatius Wetzel.
Horace. I know him! It is the same woman!.
Lady J. Pardon me Julian. What interest have I in all this?
Julian. You will see directly. The Consul first heard of the lady in the hospital at Mannheim--and went to make inquiries. She was then delirious. All the authorities could do was to show a name marked on her clothes, the name of "Mercy Merrick." No papers were found on her and nothing more was discovered until the medical treatment had restored her to herself. The Consul saw her soon afterwards, and naturally addressed her by the name of "Merrick." She informed him that he was mistaken. Her name was not "Merrick."
Lady J. (impatiently). What was it then?
Julian. Grace Roseberry.
Lady J. What!!!
Horace. Grace Roseberry!!!
Julian. Yes, and stranger still, she declared that if she could be assisted to get to England, she would be received at Mablethorpe House by Lady Janet Roy. You saw me start, aunt, when you introduced me to the young lady here. Now you know why.
Lady J. The woman must be mad! How came she to give herself Grace's name? How came she to hear of me?
Horace. She and Grace met by accident in the French Cottage. Grace may have mentioned her name, and may have talked of you.
Lady J. (to JULIAN). Surely, you have not interested yourself in such a person as this?
Julian. l am more interested than ever now I find that Miss Roseberry herself is a guest in your house.
Lady J. You don't expect me to see the woman?
Julian. I hope you will not refuse. When I got your letter, I wrote to her, appointing a meeting here. (He looks at his watch.) She is ten minutes after her time.
(The SERVANT enters by the conservatory, with a card in his hand.)
The Servant (to JULIAN). A lady to see you, sir.
(He gives JULIAN the card and waits.)
Julian (handing the card to LADY J.) Here she is.
Lady J. (indignantly, after looking at the card). "Miss Roseberry"!!! I decline to see her.
(She throws the card on a table near which she is standing.)
Julian. One moment! (To the SERVANT.) Wait, within hearing of the bell. (The SERVANT withdraws by the conservatory.) Surely we ought to hear what the lady has to say?
Horace. It is an insult to Grace to hear what she has to say.
Lady J. I think so too.
Julian. Pardon me. I have no intention of reflecting on the young lady who has just left us. The Consul's letter suggests a solution of the difficulty. He tells me that the medical authorities at Mannheim believe their patient's mind to have been unsettled by her illness.
Lady J. Just what I said! A madwoman.
Julian. She is described as perfectly gentle and harmless. It would be downright cruelty to turn her adrift in the world without making some inquiry first.
Lady J. (yielding). That is true.
Julian. We are all three interested in setting the matter at rest. And we have just the opportunity we want. Miss Roseberry has left the room.
Lady J. Let the woman come in--at once, while Grace is out of the way.
(JULIAN strikes the bell. The SERVANT appears in the conservatory.)
Julian (to the SERVANT). Show the lady in.
(The SERVANT goes out by the conservatory.)
Lady J. You agree with Julian, Horace?
Horace. I differ with him, Lady Janet. The woman has no claim on us.
Julian. Don't be hard, Horace. All women have a claim on us.
(GRACE appears at the entrance of the conservatory, shown in by the SERVANT. She is plainly dressed in black.)
Grace (hesitating at the door). Mr. Julian Gray?
Julian (advancing). I am Julian Gray. I am sorry I was not at home when you called with your letter from the Consul. (Lady Janet advances a little.) Pray take a seat.
Grace (looking at LADY J.) Is that Lady Janet Roy?
Grace (approaching LADY J.) Almost the last words my father said to me on his death-bed, Lady Janet, were the words which told me to expect protection and kindness from you. (A pause. LADY J. looks at her silently. GRACE shrinks back.) Was my father wrong?
Lady J. (coldly). Who was your father?
Grace. Has the servant not given you my card? Don't you know my name?
Lady J. (as before). Which of your names? The name on your card is "Miss Roseberry." The name marked on your clothes, when you were in the hospital, was "Mercy Merrick."
Grace. They were the clothes of another woman. I had been exposed for hours to the pouring rain. (To JULIAN.) Mercy Merrick lent me her clothes while my own were drying.
Lady J. (to HORACE). She is ready with her explanation.
Horace (to LADY J.). A great deal too ready.
Grace (looking from one to the other). They don't believe me! (LADY JANET turns away in silence.)
Julian (to GRACE). Lady Janet asked you a question just now. Lady Janet inquired who your father was.
Grace. My father was the late Colonel Roseberry.
Lady J. Her assurance amazes me!
Julian. Pray let us hear her! (To GRACE.) Have you any proof to produce, which will satisfy us that you are Colonel Roseberry's daughter?
Grace. Is my word not enough?
Julian. Pardon me; you forget that you and Lady Janet meet now for the first time. How is my aunt to know that you are the late Colonel Roseberry's daughter?
Grace. Ah! If I only had the letters that have been stolen from me!
Julian. Letters introducing you to Lady Janet?
Grace. Yes. (To LADY J.). Let me tell you how I lost my letters.
Horace (to LADY J.). Another explanation!
Julian (to HORACE). Don't irritate her! (To GRACE). In the absence of your letters, have you any one in London who can speak to your identity?
Grace. I have no friends in London.
Lady J. (to HORACE). No friends in London!
Horace (to LADY J.). Of course not!
Grace (rising). My friends are in Canada--dozens of friends who could speak for me, if I could only bring them here.
Lady J. (to HORACE). Canada!
Horace (to LADY J.). Far enough off, certainly!
Julian. A little patience, Lady Janet. A little consideration, Horace, for a friendless woman.
Grace. They won't even listen to me!
Julian. I will listen. Tell me how you lost your letters.
Grace. I had them safe about me at the moment when I was struck senseless by the bullet. The nurse was the only person who knew that I had them--and the nurse was alone with me when I received my wound.
Julian. Who was the nurse?
Grace. An Englishwoman attached to the French ambulance.
Julian. The same woman who lent you her clothes?
Grace. Yes; Mercy Merrick.
Julian. And you suspect Mercy Merrick of stealing your letters?
Grace. I am certain she stole them. She, herself, confessed to me that she had been in a prison--that she had come out of a Refuge.
Julian (gently interrupting her). Granting all that, what use could she make of your letters?
Grace. What use? One of them was a letter from my father introducing me to Lady Janet. A woman out of a Refuge would be quite capable of presenting herself here, in my place.
Lady Janet (turning away to leave the room). Give me your arm, Horace, I have heard enough.
Horace. You are quite right, Lady Janet. A more monstrous story never was invented.
Grace (angrily). What is there monstrous in it?
Julian. One minute, aunt. In the name of humanity, one minute more!
Grace (continuing). Such things have happened before now. Everybody has read of cases of false personation, in newspapers and books. I foolishly confided in Mercy Merrick before I found out what her character really was. Lady Janet! she knew that I was personally a stranger to you. She left the place--I know it by after inquiries--firmly persuaded that the bullet had killed me. My own clothes disappeared with her. Is there nothing suspicious in these circumstances? When I mentioned them to the doctors at the hospital, they all warned me that I might find an impostor in my place. (LADY J., with a gesture of disgust takes HORACE'S arm again to go out. GRACE approaches nearer to her, supplicatingly.) One word before you turn your back on me! One word, and I will be content! Has my father's letter found its way to this house, or not? If it has, did a woman bring it to you?
Lady J. These questions are an insult to me.
Horace. And worse than an insult to Grace.
Grace (eagerly). Grace! what Grace? That's my name! You have got the letter! Lady Janet, the woman is here!
Lady J. Julian, you force me, for the first time in your life, to remind you of the respect that is due to me in my own house. Send that woman away. (She takes HORACE'S arm.) Come, Horace!
Grace (indignantly). Confront me with her--and then send me away if you like!
(LADY JANET and HORACE approach the door of the conservatory to go out. JULIAN signs to GRACE to compose herself. She breaks away from him, and places herself between LADY J. and the door.)
Grace (more and more angrily). Justice, madam--justice! I claim my right to meet that woman face to face. Confront me with her! confront me with her!
Mercy (entering on the left, dressed for the drive). I hope I have not kept you waiting, Lady Janet?
Grace (recognising her, with a loud cry of triumph). Ah! there she is!
(At the sound of her voice, MERCY starts, recognises GRACE on her side, and drops insensible on the floor. LADY JANET and HORACE hasten to assist her. JULIAN, by a gesture, imposes silence on GRACE, and prevents her from advancing nearer to the fainting woman.)
THE END OF THE FIRST ACT.
Scene.-- The same as in the First Act. An interval of one week has elapsed between the two Acts.
On the rise of the curtain, LADY JANET is discovered seated, with a slip of paper in her hand. (The man servant stands near her, waiting).
Lady J. Tell the housekeeper I approve of the dinner. The hour is to be half-past seven. (She gives the paper to the SERVANT, who goes out on the left). I wish I had no harder task on my hands than approving of the dinner! (A knock is heard at the door on the right.) Come in! (JULIAN opens the door.) Julian!
Julian. * I beg to report myself, Lady Janet. I returned from the Continent last night. How, do you do? How is Miss Roseberry?
* Note.--Throughout the earlier part of the scene he speaks with an effort to be cheerful, plainly shewing that he is anxious and ill at ease.
Lady J. (pointing to herself). Here is the old lady--well. (Pointing to the room above). There is the young lady--ill.
Julian. Still suffering from the shock?
Lady J. What else should she suffer from? How long is it since that crazy impostor upset my house?
Julian. A week to-day.
Lady J. A week to-day. I will never forgive you, Julian, for bringing that woman here.
Julian. My dear aunt! how was I to know that Miss Roseberry had met with her in France, and had seen her mortally wounded by a German bullet?
Lady J. Put it more strongly, Julian! Four months since, Miss Roseberry leaves the woman lying dead in a French cottage. A week since, Miss Roseberry opens that door (she points to the door on the left) and, without a word of warning, suddenly confronts her a living woman! It's no wonder my poor darling fainted. The only marvel is that she survived the shock.
Julian. Have you had medical advice?
Lady J. I have taken her to Brighton by medical advice.
Julian. Did she benefit by the change?
Lady J. Not in the least. It's her mind that is suffering. All the sea air in creation won't set that right.
Julian. Can the doctor do nothing?
Lady J. (contemptuously). The doctor! I brought her back yesterday to consult the doctor. He knows no more about it than I do. He has just gone away with two guineas in his pocket. One guinea for advising me to keep her quiet. Another guinea for telling me to trust to time. The medical profession thrives, I find, on two incurable diseases, in these modern days--a He-disease and a She-disease. She-disease--nervous depression. He-disease--suppressed gout. Remedies--one guinea, if you go to the doctor; two guineas, if the doctor comes to you. I might have bought a new bonnet with the money I have given to that man! Let us change the subject. I want to know something. Why did you go abroad?
Julian (surprised). I wrote to explain. Have you not received my letter?
Lady J. Your letter doesn't satisfy me. Your letter only says that you thought it your duty to this crazy woman to make inquiries about her on the Continent. Why did you trouble yourself to inquire in person? You were engaged to stay here as my guest. Could you find nobody to send in your place?
Julian. I might have found somebody, I daresay. But I had a reason for going myself.
Lady J. Yes?
Julian (continuing). Which I would rather not mention.
Lady J. A mystery--eh? And another woman at the bottom of it, no doubt! Thank you--I am sufficiently answered. No wonder--as a clergyman--that you look a little confused. Let us change the subject again. You stay here, of course, now you have come back?
Julian. Not this time. I beg your ladyship will accept my excuses.
Lady J. You are evidently determined not to stay in my house. Is there anybody you dislike here? Is it Me?
Julian. How can you ask the question?
Lady J. Is it Grace Roseberry who keeps you away?
Julian (rousing himself). You insist on knowing? It is Grace Roseberry.
Lady J. (with angry surprise). You don't like her?
Julian (breaking out). Lady Janet! if I see any more of her, I shall be the unhappiest man living. If I see any more of her, I shall be false to my old friend who is to marry her. Keep us apart! If you have any regard for my peace of mind, keep us apart!
Lady J. (amazed). You don't mean to tell me you are in love with Grace?
Julian. I don't know what to tell you. No other woman has ever roused the feeling in me which this woman seems to have called to life in an instant. In the hope of forgetting her, I seized the opportunity of making those inquiries abroad. Quite useless! I think of her morning, noon, and night. My power of will seems to be gone. I said to myself this morning--"I will write to Lady Janet, I won't go back to Mablethorpe House." Here I am in Mablethorpe House. And what do you think I was hoping every step of the way here? I was hoping that Miss Roseberry would come into the room. And she is engaged to Horace Holmcroft--to my oldest friend! Keep my secret, aunt. I am heartily ashamed of myself; I used to think I was made of better stuff than this. Let me go!
(He rises and crosses to the left.)
Lady J. (rising and stopping him). Sit down again. (Speaking aside, and smiling in spite of herself.) She is certainly a charming creature! and my nephew is a man of taste! (To JULIAN, severely.) You have behaved infamously. You ought to have remembered Horace. You ought to have controlled yourself.
Julian (bitterly). Send upstairs for my self-control. It's in her possession--not in mine. Good morning, aunt.
Lady J. I insist on your staying here. I have something to say to you.
Julian. Does it refer to Miss Roseberry?
Lady J. It refers to the hateful woman who frightened Miss Roseberry. I can tell you this, Julian. She not only frightens Grace--she almost frightens Me!
Julian. Frightens You? She is quite harmless, poor thing.
Lady J. (surprised). "Poor thing?" Is it possible that you pity her?
Julian. From the bottom of my heart.
Lady J. (indignantly). I hate a man who can't hate anybody! If you had been an ancient Roman, Julian, I believe you would have pitied Nero himself.
Julian (quietly). I believe I should. All sinners, my dear aunt, are more or less miserable sinners. Nero must have been one of the wretchedest of mankind.
Lady J. Wretched! Nero wretched! A man who committed robbery, arson, and murder to his own violin accompaniment, only wretched! We shall hear next that Bloody Queen Mary was as playful as a kitten--and if poor dear Henry the Eighth carried anything to an extreme, it was the practice of the domestic virtues! Ah! how I hate cant! You wander from the subject, Julian. Have you nothing to say for yourself? Have you, of all people in the world, lost the use of your tongue?
Julian. (gaily). Heaven forbid! what would a clergyman be without the use of his tongue? I have plenty to tell your ladyship.
Lady J. Begin directly. (They seat themselves.) You took this pitiable lady of yours away from my house a week since. How did you get rid of her?
Julian. I made no attempt to get rid of her. She was friendless, and she was placed under my charge. With my lawyer's assistance, I contrived to have the state of her mind examined by a doctor.
Lady J. Pass over the doctor. You paid him two guineas, and you found that he knew nothing about it. What did you do when you crossed the Channel? Did you discover Mercy Merrick?
Julian. I made the strictest inquiries everywhere. No such person as Mercy Merrick had been seen or heard of by anybody.
Lady J. In short, no such person exists? The nurse is the phantom of a madwoman's brain?
Julian. No! no! you forget. When she was brought to the hospital, her clothes were marked, "Mercy Merrick." My inquiries prove that those clothes must have really belonged to her.
Lady J. I see! She has turned her own identity and Grace's identity topsy-turvy in her crazy head. The madwoman herself is Mercy Merrick! Stop! The "madwoman" reminds me----
Julian. Reminds you of what?
Lady J. Of what I wanted to say to you ages since. Where is she--your pitiable person; my crazy wretch--where is she now?
Julian. Where I left her, by the doctor's advice, when I went abroad. Under the care of her landlady.
Lady J. Suppose she gives her landlady the slip? What is to prevent her from making another attempt to force her way, or steal her way, into my house? (HORACE HOLMCROFT appears in the conservatory, unnoticed by JULIAN or LADY J., and waits, listening.)
Julian. There is no fear of her doing that. I have satisfied her that it is useless to return to this house.
Horace (advancing). I beg your pardon. You have done nothing of the sort. (LADY J. and JULIAN rise.)
Lady J. Good heavens! Horace. Where do you come from? And what do you mean?
Horace. I heard at the lodge, Lady Janet, that you and Grace had returned, and I have come in by the shortest way. That person has been here again, Julian, in Lady Janet's absence.
Lady J. What!
Horace. I have just heard it from the lodgekeeper himself. He hesitated to mention it to you, Lady Janet, for fear of alarming you. She had the audacity to inquire for your address at the seaside. Of course the man refused to give it to her.
Lady J. (in alarm). You hear that, Julian!
Julian (gravely and sadly). Pray don't alarm yourself! If she attempts to annoy you or Miss Roseberry again, I answer for stopping her.
Lady J. (surprised). You!
Julian. After what I discovered abroad, it was my duty to take all needful precautions. I have consulted this morning with the magistrate of the district.
Horace. The magistrate! There will be a public scandal.
Julian. There will be nothing of the kind. By the magistrate's advice, I have been to the police station close by. On receipt of my card, an experienced man in plain clothes will present himself at any address that I indicate, and will take her quietly away. The magistrate will hear the charge in his private room, and will see the proofs I can now produce that she is not accountable for her actions. The medical officer will report on the case, and the law will place her under the necessary restraint.
Lady J. Why didn't you tell me you had done this before?
Julian. Because I hoped that there would be no necessity for proceeding to extremities. I hope so still. (He takes his hat. HORACE walks aside, and stands before the fire warming himself.)
Lady J. (to JULIAN). Are you going away?
Julian. I am going to give the lodgekeeper a word of warning in case of his seeing her again. I will not leave you until I have provided for your security.
Lady J. Provide for my security at once. Give me one of your cards.
Julian (hesitating). My dear aunt!
Lady J. How do I know she may not find her way here the moment your back is turned? Give me your card.
Julian (in an undertone, giving LADY J. a card). Remember what I have confessed to you. Let me see as little of Miss Roseberry as possible. Shall I find you in this room when I come back?
Lady J. (putting the card into the pocket of her dress). Yes.
Lady J. (in a whisper). Are you really as much in love with her as that?
Julian (pointing to HORACE). I never envied any man as I envy Horace. (He goes out on the right.)
Horace. Can I see Grace, Lady Janet?
Lady J. Hardly yet, I think. She talked this morning of going downstairs; but it is very doubtful if she will make the effort.
Horace (looking towards the door on the left). She has made the effort.
Lady J. How do you know?
Horace (pointing to the door). Don't I hear the sound of a woman's dress in that room? (The door opens, and MERCY appears.) Here she is!
(MERCY advances slowly, with her eyes on the ground. On her arm she carries a basket of coloured wools. LADY J. advances eagerly to meet her.)
Lady J. This is an unexpected pleasure! Welcome downstairs, my love. (She points to HORACE.) Here is somebody who has been longing to see you.
Mercy (faintly). Thank you, Lady Janet. Thank you, Horace.
Horace (aside). How dreadfully ill she looks! (To MERCY.) Where will you sit, Grace?
Mercy (as before). Anywhere you like.
(LADY J. and HORACE lead her to the sofa.)
Lady J. But why do you come here, my dear? The drawing-room is warmer and more cheerful at this time of day.
Mercy. I saw a carriage at the front door. I was afraid of meeting with visitors in the drawing-room.
Lady J. Visitors? I sincerely hope not. (The MAN-SERVANT enters with visiting cards. LADY J. takes them.) Provoking! Here the visitors are! I must go and get rid of them. What will you do, Grace?
Mercy. I will stay here, if you please.
Horace. I will keep her company, Lady Janet.
Lady J. (aside, as she approaches the door on the left). Suppose Julian returns? No! It's a ten minutes' walk to the lodge. I shall get back before he comes.
(The SERVANT opens the door for LADY JANET and follows her out.)
Horace. I am grieved to see you looking so ill, Grace. Try to forget what has happened.
Mercy (absently sorting the wools in her basket). I am trying to forget. Do you think of it much?
Horace. It is too contemptible to be thought of.
Mercy (distrustfully). Have you seen Mr. Julian Gray?
Mercy. What does he say about it?
Horace. He is anxious for your recovery, that is all.
Mercy. Why has he not been here for a whole week?
Horace. He has been abroad.
Mercy (aside, in terror). Abroad? Has he been making inquiries? (To HORACE.) Where has he been?
Horace. In France and Germany.
Mercy (aside). He suspects me! (To HORACE.) When did he come back?
Horace. He returned last night.
Mercy (trembling). Where is the--the person who came here--the person who frightened me?
Horace. She will not come here again. Not another word about her, Grace. I forbid the subject. Rally your spirits. Come, my darling!--we are young; we love each other. Now is our time to be happy! (MERCY shudders.) Are you cold? Let me mend the fire.
(He crosses to the other side of the room, and mends the fire.)
Mercy (to herself). "Rally your spirits!" "Now is our time to be happy!" Oh, me! (A pause. She suddenly changes to recklessness.) Why not? Horace, is right! Away with my remorse! Remorse is the luxury of an honest woman. The time is near when I shall be back again in the Refuge or back again in the streets. Adventuress! enjoy your stolen position while you can! (She calls to HORACE, who is still mending the fire.) Ring the bell, Horace! (HORACE looks at her in surprise, and then rings. MERCY continues with hysterical excitement.) I have left my work upstairs. If you want me to be in good spirits, I must have my work. (HORACE rings. The MAN-SERVANT appears.) Go upstairs and ask my maid for my work. (The man bows and goes out. MERCY continues with bitter irony.) What a comfort it is, Horace, to belong to the upper classes! A poor woman has no maid to dress her, and no footman to send upstairs. Is life worth having on less than five thousand a year? (The SERVANT re-enters with a strip of embroidery.) Bring me a footstool. (The man obeys.) On second thoughts, I don't care about my work. Take it upstairs again. (The man goes out with the work. HORACE observes her in silent wonder. She notices him.) You look grave, Horace. You don't approve of my sitting idle? Anything to please you. I haven't got to go up and down stairs. Ring the bell again.
Horace. My dear Grace, you are quite mistaken. I never even thought of your work.
Mercy. Never mind. It's inconsistent to send for my work, and then send it away again. Ring the bell. (HORACE rings. The SERVANT returns.) Bring my work back; I have changed my mind. (The SERVANT goes out.) It is only people in our rank of life, Horace, who get good servants. Nothing upsets that man's temper. A hard-worked servant, in a poor family, would have told me to know my own mind. (The SERVANT appears again with the work.) Thank you; that will do. (The SERVANT goes out.) Have you seen your mother lately, Horace?
Horace (seating himself by her). I saw her yesterday.
Mercy (more and more excited--preparing her work). She understands, I hope, that I am not well enough to call upon her? She is not offended with me?
Horace. Offended with you? My dear Grace, she has a wedding present for you.
Mercy. Do you know what it is?
Horace. No. I only know it is waiting for you. Shall I go and get it to-day?
Mercy. Your mother is very kind to me. I was afraid at one time that she would think me hardly good enough to be your wife.
Horace. Absurd! My darling, you are connected with Lady Janet Roy.
Mercy. Suppose I had not been connected with her? Suppose I had only been a good girl, with nothing but my own merits to speak for me, what would your mother have said then?
Horace. Why do you ask these questions?
Mercy. I ask to be answered.
Horace. if you must know, my mother would have refused to sanction such a marriage as that.
Mercy. No matter how good the girl might have been?
Horace. My mother would have respected the girl, without ceasing to respect herself. She would have remembered what was due to the family name.
Mercy. And she would have said--No?
Horace. And she would have said--No.
Mercy (indignantly throwing down her work). Ah!
Horace. What is the matter?
Mercy. Nothing. (Aside.) Oh! if I didn't love him! If I had only his merciless mother to think of!
Horace. Surely, I have not offended you?
Mercy (changing to tenderness). You would have loved me, Horace--without stopping to think of the family name?
Horace. My dear! how strangely you persist in coming back to that!
Mercy (persisting). You would have loved me?
Horace (soothing her). Under any circumstances--under any name!
Mercy. No matter who I might have been? For myself alone?
Horace. For yourself alone.
Mercy (with her head on his breast, and her arm round him.). I love you! (Starting back from him with a faint cry). Oh! leave me! Go! Go!
Horace (surprised). Leave you?
Mercy (rising--and speaking wildly). Yes! The wedding-present! You offered to bring me your mother's wedding-present. (To herself.) My head is failing me! I shall burst out before him with the truth! (To HORACE.) I am dying to see what it is. Go and get it! (Pushing him out towards the door on the left.) Go! Talking excites me--I am not well. Go--if you love me!
Horace. Shall I see you when I come back?
Mercy. Yes! yes!
Horace (kissing her hand). You shall have my mother's gift, in half-an-hour. (He hurries out on the left.)
Mercy (with a gasp of relief). Oh! If I could only cry, now there is nobody to see me! (She looks round the room in terror.) This room! This horrible room! The last time I entered it, I saw her standing there. (She points to the place.) I can see her now--Grace Roseberry! Grace Roseberry!! Grace Roseberry, risen from the dead!!! (A pause. She lifts her hands to her head.) How it burns! how it burns! I mustn't excite myself. I must keep quiet--I must try to think. (She seats herself on the sofa, with her back to the conservatory.) Where is she now? When is she coming back again to the house? What has she said of me to Julian Gray? He suspects me! oh, he suspects me! When will he tell the others? When will the truth come out? Why do I wait till it comes out? Why have I let a whole week pass without opening my lips? I am the vilest wretch on earth, if I wrong that woman any longer. That miserable woman! That friendless woman! (Another pause. GRACE ROSEBERRY appears in the conservatory at the farther end of it. She hesitates before she advances to the room--glances suddenly over one shoulder, as if suspicious of persons following her--and disappears again at the back of the conservatory. MERCY, still absorbed in her own thoughts, rises with renewed agitation.) I can't do it--the bare thought of confessing to them horrifies me! They are so good to me, how can I confess? How can I tell them that I have cheated them out of their love? I can't do it! I can't do it! (She seats herself on the nearest chair, with her back to the conservatory, and continues in a calmer tone.) Suppose I did own the truth, what good would it do to Grace Roseberry? All the right in the world will not put Grace Roseberry in my place. Can I make it up to her in no other way? Where can I find her? I must see her in private to-day--to-morrow at latest.
(She stops and hides her face in her hands. GRACE ROSEBERRY re-appears in the conservatory, advances to the door leading into the room, and speaks in a whisper.)
Grace (to herself). Not a soul to see me! I have got her to myself. (On the point of entering the room, she stops, and looks suspiciously at the door on the right.) What's that?
(The door on the right is opened from without. JULIAN appears. GRACE draws back again out of sight. MERCY remains absorbed in her own thoughts.)
Julian (at the door). Lady Janet, I have cautioned the lodge-keeper---- (He stops, seeing MERCY, and continues aside.) The woman I love!
Mercy (aside--seeing him). The man who suspects me! (To JULIAN--timidly). Mr. Julian Gray----
Julian (hesitating at the door). Miss Roseberry?
Mercy (aside). He shrinks from approaching me! (To JULIAN.) Did you expect to see Lady Janet?
Julian (still hesitating). It doesn't matter--I can wait. (Aside). I ought to leave her---- (He withdraws a step, and looks back at her furtively.) How worn she looks! and yet how lovely still! (He turns towards the door, and looks back again.) I can't leave her!
Mercy (aside). I must find out if he suspects me! (To JULIAN--timidly). Lady Janet is receiving some visitors. She will be back directly.
Julian. (confusedly). Thank you. I--if I am not in the way, I will wait. (Aside.) I daren't look at her--I shall betray myself!
Mercy (aside). I daren't meet his eye--I shall fall at his feet with the confession of the truth.
Julian (advancing--shyly). I hope you are better, Miss Roseberry?
Mercy. Thank you. I am well enough to feel ashamed of the anxiety I have caused and the trouble I have given. I have got downstairs for the first time to-day. (She takes up her basket to conceal her agitation.) I am trying to do a little work. (She turns over the wools in the basket, and looks at him with a smile.) My skeins are all tangled. How am I to set them right again?
Julian. Let me help you.
Mercy (half-amazed, half-alarmed). You!
Julian (smiling). You forget that I am a curate. Curates are privileged to make themselves useful to young ladies. Let me try.
(He seats himself on a stool at her feet--unravels a skein--and holds it for MERCY to wind into a ball.)
Mercy (trying). You were in the room last week when I fainted, were you not?
Mercy (rolling up the wool). You must think me a sad coward, even for a woman?
Julian. I am far from thinking that. No courage could have sustained the shock which fell on you. I don't wonder that you fainted. I don't wonder that you have been ill.
(She drops the wool she has rolled. As JULIAN picks it up for her, she speaks aside.)
Mercy (aside). Is he setting a trap for me? (To JULIAN, who gives her back the ball.) Thank you. Horace tells me you have been abroad.
Julian. Yes. I thought it right to make some inquiries.
Mercy (faintly, ceasing to roll up the wool). Any results?
Julian. Nothing of importance; nothing worth telling.
Mercy (as before). May I ask you another question? I want to know your opinion of the person who frightened me. Do you believe her to be an adventuress? Do you think her a dangerous woman?
Julian (composedly). Certainly not. Pray don't be alarmed about her. At the worst I think her the victim of a delusion; nothing more. I don't blame her. I pity her.
Mercy (with sudden resolution to know the worst). You pity her? (A pause.) There! the ball is wound. (She puts it into the basket.) Do you believe her?
Julian (rising in surprise). Believe her! Good heavens, Miss Roseberry, what put such a question into your head?
Mercy (trying to assume a jesting tone). I am little better than a stranger to you. How could I feel sure that you might not suspect me?
Julian (warmly). Suspect you? You don't know how you distress, how you shock me! The man doesn't live who trusts you more implicitly, who believes in you more devotedly, than I do. (There is a momentary pause. She turns her head aside, shrinking from meeting his eye.) Have I said anything to hurt you?
Mercy (still not daring to look at him). You don't know how your generous confidence touches me. You little think how keenly I feel your kindness! (She hands him the work-basket.) Will you put it away for me? (JULIAN takes the basket to a side table. MERCY speaks to herself.) I have wronged him too! He believes in me! If I dared own the truth to him, would he shrink from me? (JULIAN returns.) Suppose you had taken the other view? Suppose you had thought her a woman wickedly bent on deceiving others for a purpose of her own?
Mercy. You would shrink in horror from such a false creature as that?
Julian. God forbid that I should shrink from any human creature! Who among us has a right to do that?
Mercy. You would still pity her and feel for her?
Julian. With my whole heart!
Mercy. How good you are!
Julian. No! Don't say that! Say, that I try to love my neighbour as myself. Who but a Pharisee can believe that he is better than another? The best among us to-day may, but for the mercy of Heaven, be the worst among us to-morrow. The true Christian virtue is the virtue which never despairs of a fellow-creature. Frail and fallen as we are, we can rise on the wings of repentance from earth to heaven. Humanity is sacred! Humanity has its immortal destiny! Who shall dare say to man or woman, There is no hope in You? Who shall dare say the work is vile, when that work bears on it the stamp of the Creator's hand? (He pauses, struggling with the emotion which she has roused in him.)
Mercy (aside, rising). Has Providence sent him here to help me? No! too late! too late! (She sighs bitterly. JULIAN hears her and looks round.)
Julian. Miss Roseberry!
Mercy (starting and looking up). Yes?
Julian (very gently). May I venture to ask you something? (MERCY starts.) Don't suppose I speak out of idle curiosity. I fancy you feel more than a common interest in the questions which you have just put to me. Are you by any chance speaking of some erring woman-- not, of course, the person who frightened you--but of some other woman whom you know? (MERCY answers by bending her head. She can neither speak to him nor look at him.) Does that mean that I am right?
Mercy (faintly). Yes.
Julian. Are you interested in her?
Mercy. I am.
Julian. Go to her, and let me go with you and help you.
Mercy (with her head on her breast). She has sunk too low for that. (She falls back in the chair.) She has deceived--basely deceived--kind, innocent people. She has cruelly wronged another woman. (GRACE reappears listening.)
Julian. You judge her very harshly. Do you know how she may have been tried and tempted? Had she any friend near to advise her, to warn her, before it was too late?
Mercy. She had no one to warn her--she was alone.
Julian. Tempted and friendless, she may have committed herself headlong to the act which she now vainly repents. She may long to make atonement, and may not know how to begin. She may be crushed under the despair and horror of herself, out of which the truest repentance grows. Is such a woman as this all wicked, all vile? I deny it. She may have a noble nature. Give her the opportunity she needs, and she may show it nobly yet. Tell me this, has she gained anything to her own advantage by the fraud?
Mercy. She has.
Julian. Is she threatened with discovery?
Mercy. She is safe from discovery as long as she closes her lips. (GRACE disappears again.)
Julian. There is her opportunity. Let her own the truth without the base fear of discovery to drive her to it. Let her do justice to the woman whom she has wronged while that woman is still powerless to expose her. Let her sacrifice everything that she has gained by the fraud to the sacred duty of atonement. If she can do that--to her own prejudice, to her own shame, to her own loss--then her repentance has nobly revealed the noble nature that is in her; then she is a woman to be trusted, respected, beloved. If I saw the Pharisees and fanatics of this lower earth passing her by in contempt, I would hold out my hand to her before them all. I would say to her in her solitude and her affliction, Rise, poor wounded heart! Beautiful, purified soul, the angels in Heaven rejoice over you! Take your place among the noblest of Heaven's creatures!
Mercy (aside--deeply agitated). The words he spoke to us in the chapel at the Refuge! The words that drew tears from us all in the bygone time!
Julian (taking his hat). Where is she? Don't waste the precious moments! Don't leave her cruelly to herself! If you can't go to her, let me go in your place. (He advances to the door on the left.)
Mercy (with sudden resolution). Stay here!
Julian (at the door). Stay here? I don't understand you.
Mercy. You will understand me directly. Give me a little time.
Julian (returning a few steps towards her). Do you wish to be alone? Shall I leave you for awhile, and return again?
Mercy (agitatedly). No! Don't leave me! I want encouragement--I want strength. Come back to me. (He seats himself by her again.) Let me take your hand. (He hesitates--she abruptly takes his hand.)
Julian. (aside--looking away from her). Her touch thrills through me!
Mercy (aside--in surprise). His hand trembles in mine! (To JULIAN.) Don't look away from me! Your eye gives me courage. Look at me.
Julian. Look at you----? (He loses all self-control--he looks at her ardently and takes her by both hands.) Oh! if you only knew----! (Aside--with sudden self-reproach.) What am I saying? (He abruptly rises, and retires to the fireplace.)
Mercy (resolute to speak out). Now! now! Let me speak while I can. I have more to say to you, far more than I have said yet. Generous, merciful friend, let me say it now! (JULIAN returns to her in surprise. She attempts to throw herself at his feet.) I--I am the----!
Julian (raising her with a loud cry of recognition as the truth bursts on him). You are the woman!!!
(She is almost in his arms. At the same moment the door on the left opens; LADY JANET appears, and stops at the entrance of the room, looking sternly at them. Neither JULIAN nor MERCY show any embarrassment or take any notice of her. MERCY sinks into a chair. JULIAN is absorbed in looking at her.)
Lady J. (sternly). Mr. Julian Gray! (JULIAN approaches LADY J. without the slightest confusion.) You were right--you ought to have found nobody here on your return but me. I can place but one interpretation on what I saw when I opened that door----
Julian (quietly). You entirely misunderstand what you saw when you opened that door.
Lady J. Perhaps I misunderstand the confession which you made to me not an hour ago?
Julian (with a look of alarm). Don't speak of it! (He indicates MERCY). She might hear you.
Lady J. Do you mean to say she doesn't know you are in love with her?
Julian (earnestly). Thank Heaven, she has not the faintest suspicion of it!
Lady J. (astonished). He is really in earnest! What does it mean? (The SERVANT enters on the left. LADY J. addresses him irritably). Why do you interrupt us?
The Servant. I beg your Ladyship's pardon. I wanted to speak to Mr. Julian Gray.
Julian. What is it?
The Servant. I hardly know if I can tell you, sir, before her Ladyship.
Lady J. I know what has happened! That abominable woman has found her way here again. Am I right?
The Servant. Yes, my Lady.
(MERCY, who has been disturbed by the SERVANT'S appearance, rises, and listens eagerly to what follows.)
Julian. Where is she?
The Servant. Somewhere in the grounds, as we suppose, sir--on the side of the shrubbery.
Julian. Did you see her?
The Servant. No, sir. The lodge-keeper's wife saw her--and then lost sight of her again among the trees.
Julian. Is the lodge-keeper's wife in the house?
The Servant. No, sir. She sent her boy. She and her husband are waiting your orders at the lodge.
Julian. Tell the boy I will be at the lodge immediately. (The SERVANT goes out on the left. LADY J. takes JULIAN'S card out of her pocket and seats herself at a side-table, thinking. MERCY remains alone, near the chair that she has left. JULIAN continues to himself.) Everything depends on my discovering her in time! (He looks round at MERCY with an expression of alarm.) If the two women meet now--who can say what mischief may not come of it! (He turns to go out.)
Lady J. (To JULIAN, from the table). What are you going to do, Julian?
Julian. I am going to direct the search in the grounds. (He crosses to MERCY, and addresses her in low tones, with the deepest respect.) I will return to you as soon as possible. I never was more in earnest in promising you my truest help and sympathy than I am now. (MERCY'S head sinks again. She makes no answer. JULIAN looks at her compassionately--goes to the door on the right, turns, looks at her again, and speaks to himself.) My faith in her is as firm as ever. It is the other woman whom I dread.
(He goes out on the right. MERCY seats herself again. LADY J., at the other end of the stage, lifts the pencil-case at her watch-chain, and writes on JULIAN'S card, repeating the words to herself in an undertone.)
Lady J. "To the inspector at the police-station. --The officer is wanted at Mablethorpe House." (She speaks.) It's well I made Julian give me his card. Nobody knows what may happen before Julian comes back. (GRACE reappears, and remains behind a shrub until she enters. LADY J. puts the card in her pocket, and, turning towards MERCY, speaks to her sharply.) My dear! do you know that the woman in black is trying to annoy us again?
Mercy. Yes, Lady Janet.
Lady J. I am going to set a man on guard at every door. You can't stay here by yourself. Come with me.
Mercy. I am not afraid to stay here by myself, Lady Janet.
Lady J. Not afraid! Why, you fainted the last time you saw her.
Mercy. I was not prepared for her then. I am prepared for her now.
Lady J. Oh! stay by all means, if you like! I never met with such heroism in my life, out of a novel.
(She advances to the door on the left. MERCY respectfully opens it for her. She goes out; MERCY, holding the door, looks after her sadly. GRACE noiselessly enters the room, and lays her hand on the chair which MERCY has just left.)
Mercy (to herself--looking after LADY JANET). Why should I be afraid of meeting with Grace Roseberry? I am resolved to atone for the wrong that I have done her. I wish I could speak to her at this moment.
(She closes the door, and turning to go back to her chair sees GRACE; she starts violently with a cry of surprise, and grasps at the nearest chair to support herself.)
Grace (taking her seat). I forbid you to be seated in my presence.
Mercy (advancing a little). You speak to me very harshly. I don't deny that I have deserved it.
Grace. No nearer to me! Stand there! Mercy Merrick, I have got you at last. You can't escape me now.
Mercy (gently). I have no wish to avoid you. I am too anxious to deserve your pardon to have any fear of seeing you.
Grace. How dare you answer me in that tone? You talk as if you had your right and your place in this house. I have my right and my place here; and I am obliged to hang about the grounds, and fly from the servants, and hide like a thief, and wait like a beggar--and all for what? For the chance of having a word with You. Yes, you, madam--with the air of the Refuge and the dirt of the streets on you.
Mercy (resignedly). If it is your pleasure to use hard words to me, I have no right to resent them.
Grace. You have no right to anything! You have no right to the gown on your back! Who gave you that dress? Who gave you those jewels? Lady Janet gave them to Grace Roseberry. Are you Grace Roseberry? That dress is mine. Take off your bracelets and your brooch. They were meant for me.
Mercy (as before). You may soon have them, Miss Roseberry. They will not be in my possession many hours longer.
Grace. What do you mean?
Mercy. I will restore all that I have taken from you. I am determined to confess the truth.
Grace (scornfully). You confess! Are you the woman to give up your position in this house, and go back to the Refuge of your own accord? Not you!
Mercy (breaking out). Miss Roseberry----! (She checks herself, and speaks aside.) No! Anything rather than disappoint Julian Gray.
Grace (as before). You won't confess. You are of the sort that cheat and lie to the last. I am glad of it! I shall have the joy of exposing you before the whole house. Oh, how I long to see you with a policeman's hand on your arm, and the mob mocking you on your way to gaol!
Mercy (entreatingly). Spare me more insults. I have borne the bitterest words you can say to me. I promise you I will own the truth.
Grace. You are not far from the bell. Ring it.
Mercy (surprised). Ring it?
Grace. You have just promised me to own the truth. Call in Lady Janet; call in Mr. Gray and Mr. Holmcroft; call in the servants. Go down on your knees, and acknowledge yourself an impostor before them all. Then I will believe you--not before.
Mercy (warning her). Don't turn me against you! For your own sake, don't go on provoking me much longer!
Grace. You insolent creature! Do you mean to threaten me?
Mercy (restraining herself by a last effort). Have some compassion on me. Badly as I have behaved to you, I am still a woman like yourself. I can't face the shame of owning what I have done before the whole house----
Grace (interrupting her). What did I say?
Mercy (with rising passion). Hear me, you heartless woman, hear me! Lady Janet treats me like a daughter. Mr. Holmcroft is engaged to marry me. I can't tell them to their faces that I have cheated them out of their love. But they shall know it for all that. Before I rest to-night I will tell the truth to Mr. Julian Gray.
Grace (laughing). Ha! ha! ha! now we have come to it at last.
Mercy (as before). Take care! take care!
Grace (ironically). Mr. Julian Gray! I have been hiding in the conservatory--I have seen you and heard you. Confession becomes quite a luxury with Mr. Julian Gray.
Mercy (outraged). No more! no more! Don't put me beside myself! I warn you--you have tortured me enough already.
Grace (as before). You are a woman with resources; you know the value of having two strings to your bow. if Mr. Holmcroft fails you, you have got Mr. Julian Gray. (Suddenly changing to malicious triumph.) I'll see that Mr. Holmcroft's eyes are opened. He shall know what a wretch he might have married but for Me.
(MERCY suddenly advances close to GRACE'S chair. GRACE looks up at her, and shrinks under the suppressed fury of MERCY'S eyes.)
Mercy (repeating GRACE'S last words very slowly). You will see that Mr. Holmcroft's eyes are opened? He shall know what a wretch he might have married but for you? (A pause. MERCY continues with marked emphasis, still without raising her voice.) Who are you?
Grace (rallying her courage). Stand back!
Mercy (as before). Who are you?
Grace (rising and drawing back). How dare you ask me?
Mercy (with a scornful wave of her hand). I ask you no more--I remember. You are the madwoman from the German hospital, who came here a week ago. I am not afraid of you this time. Sit down and rest yourself----Mercy Merrick!*
* The actress should note by a pause, Mercy's audacity in calling Grace, to her face, by Mercy's own name. Thus:--"Sit down and rest yourself----" (A pause; then with marked emphasis)--"Mercy Merrick!"
Grace. What does this mean?
Mercy (breaking out). It means that there are limits to human endurance, it means that you have roused me at last. I recall every word I said just now. I am resolved to keep my place in this house. You have not the shadow of a proof against me. I deny that I have injured you! How was I to know that you would come to life again? Have I degraded your name and character? I have done honour to both. I have won everybody's liking, and everybody's respect. Who can shake my position? Who can injure Me? I am safe in your place. I am known by your name. I am Grace Roseberry and you are Mercy Merrick. Disprove it, if you can.
Grace. Are you out of your senses?
Mercy. Do what you asked me to do. Ring the bell. Call in the whole household. Ask them which of us is mad--you or I? You won't? Then there is no more to be said between us. Leave the room!
Grace (furiously). What!!!
(MERCY springs to the table on which the handbell is placed, and strikes it. At the same moment the door on the right opens, and JULIAN GRAY appears. Both the women start at seeing him. MERCY'S head sinks on her breast. JULIAN remains close at the door.)
Julian. (aside, looking from one to the other). The one thing I dreaded! The mischief is done!
(The door on the left is opened by the SERVANT. LADY JANET and HORACE enter. HORACE has a jewel-case in his hand.)
Lady J. (discovering GRACE, and speaking to MERCY). I said she was in the house! Has she frightened you? (MERCY looks up, and makes a sign in the negative.) Leave her to me. (MERCY retires to the back; HORACE follows her and speaks to her, handing her the jewel-case, which she places unopened on the table. JULIAN speaks to GRACE remonstrating with her. LADY J. addresses the SERVANT, who stands at the door on the left, waiting his orders.) Wait in the library; I may want you again. (The SERVANT goes out. LADY J. advances and speaks to GRACE, who occupies the right-hand side of the stage.) I have no desire to speak harshly to you. Your visits to my house can lead to no satisfactory result. In your own interests, I request you to withdraw.
Grace. In my own interests, I claim a hearing, Lady Janet. I refuse to withdraw.
(LADY J. expresses her indignation by a gesture.)
Lady J. (To GRACE.) Make up your mind to do what I have asked of you--(she points to the door on the left)--before I have walked back to that door. Don't force me to remind you again, that I am mistress here. (She returns slowly to the door, and turns to GRACE.) Will you go?
Grace (pointing to MERCY). I will not go! I insist on my right to the position which that woman has stolen from me. I dare her, before you all, to deny that she is Mercy Merrick!
(MERCY advances, and attempts to answer. HORACE stops her. JULIAN keeps his eyes steadily fixed on MERCY, waiting to see what she will do.)
Horace (to MERCY). You degrade yourself if you answer her. Let us leave the room. (He offers MERCY his arm.)
Grace. Yes! Take her out. It's her place to go--not mine.
Mercy (looking defiantly at GRACE). I refuse to leave the room.
Julian (aside, reproachfully to GRACE). You have done this! She was penitent--and you have hardened her! Her pride was at your feet--and you have roused it.
(GRACE turns away from him scornfully.)
Horace (to LADY J.). Lady Janet, how much longer are we to endure this?
Lady J. Not much longer, Horace, I promise you. (She takes JULIAN'S card out of her pocket, and opens the library door. The SERVANT appears. LADY JANET gives the card to the SERVANT, and continues to him in an undertone.) Go to the police-station, and give that card to the inspector on duty. There is not a moment to lose.
Julian. Pardon me. I have something to propose, before you send that card. (He signs to the SERVANT to wait, and turns to GRACE.) I wish first to say a word in private to this lady. (He turns to MERCY next, and respectfully addresses her. GRACE listens with malicious curiosity.) When my word is spoken, will you give me an opportunity of seeing you? We have still to continue the conversation which was interrupted a short time since. (MERCY'S head sinks in confusion. JULIAN lowers his voice.) Do you understand me?
Mercy (deeply agitated, in a whisper). Only too well!
Horace (with jealous distrust, looking at MERCY). Why is she whispering to him?
Julian (to MERCY). You consent to see me in five minutes?
(MERCY hesitates between her better impulses, and her remembrance of GRACE'S insults. GRACE addresses her satirically.)
Grace (indicating JULIAN). You needn't be afraid to trust him alone with me. I am not interested in making a conquest of Mr. Julian Gray.
(JULIAN turns from GRACE in disgust.)
Mercy (to JULIAN, after an angry look at GRACE). I have nothing more to say to you, Mr. Gray. There is no need for me to trouble you again.
(JULIAN looks at her sadly, and lifts his hands in despair.)
Julian (resignedly to LADY J.). I beg your pardon for detaining the servant, aunt. You were right--my interference is useless. Send the card.
Lady J. (to the SERVANT). Go. (The SERVANT goes out with the card. GRACE observes him suspiciously. LADY J., and HORACE, and MERCY, speak together. GRACE is left alone on one side of the stage, and JULIAN on the other.)
Julian. (to himself, looking at MERCY). Let the police officer do his work. Let her see Grace Roseberry on her way to the madhouse, and then let her persist in personating Grace Roseberry, if she can!
(He walks apart, thinking.)
Grace (looking at MERCY). Mercy Merrick! Lady Janet has sent her servant out with a card. Is that card part of your plot against me?
Horace (to GRACE, while he prevents MERCY from answering). Silence!
Grace (turning fiercely on HORACE). Do you tell me to be silent? Fool! You have the greatest interest of anybody in finding out the truth. (She points to MERCY.) Do you want to marry an outcast from the streets?
Horace (infuriated). Say another word, and I will put you out of the room with my own hands!
Julian. Take the ladies into the library, Horace. And leave me here till the man comes.
Horace (to JULIAN). I have something to say, before we go into the library. (He goes up to get the jewels.) That woman's insult (he points to GRACE) shall not pass unanswered She has sense enough to see and sense enough to hear. Let her see and hear. (He opens the case and displays a pearl necklace--then addresses MERCY.) My love! my mother sends you her congratulations on our approaching marriage. She begs you to accept, as part of your bridal dress, these pearls. They have been in our family for centuries. As one of the family, honoured and beloved, my mother offers them to my wife.
(He lifts the necklace to place it on MERCY'S neck.)
Julian (to himself). Will she endure that ordeal? (MERCY, after a triumphant look at GRACE, allows HORACE to put the pearls round her neck. JULIAN continues aside.) She does endure it! Can I have been mistaken in her? (JULIAN withdraws thoughtfully towards the conservatory.)
Horace (offering his arm to MERCY). Now we may go into the library. (He looks back at GRACE.) She has seen and she has heard.
Grace (to HORACE). Wait a little--and you will hear that your wife has stolen my name! Wait a little--and you will see your wife dismissed from this house!
Mercy (breaking away from HORACE in uncontrollable passion, and answering GRACE). You are mad!
Lady J. (following MERCY). You are mad!
Horace (following LADY J.) You are mad!
(GRACE shrinks back daunted by the treble accusation. The SERVANT enters by the conservatory.)
The Servant (to LADY J.). A person to see you, my Lady.
(A man dressed in black enters by the conservatory. He offers to LADY J. the card which she has sent to the station. JULIAN takes the card, and descends the stage to GRACE. There is a pause. The man's appearance strikes them all silent. They look at him. He waits for his orders. GRACE, in terror, points to him, and whispers to JULIAN.
Grace. Who is that? (JULIAN places her in an easy chair, without answering. GRACE continues piteously.) Do speak to me! You don't think I'm mad? Why is that man here?
Julian. You will soon know. (He approaches LADY J.) Will your Ladyship give the man his orders?
Lady J. (recoiling from the police officer). I can't speak to him! (To JULIAN.) I leave it to you.
Julian (to the officer.) Wait there. (He points to a chair at the back. The man seats himself. MERCY draws HORACE aside. They stand together in the front, as far from GRACE as the limits of the stage will permit, and speak in whispers.)
Mercy (nervously). Who is he?
Horace. A police officer in plain clothes.
Mercy. Why is he here?
Horace. To take that woman away.
(He points to GRACE, lying back exhausted in her chair. JULIAN anxiously watches the slightest change in MERCY'S face. LADY JANET is seated at the back, looking in surprise at HORACE and MERCY, as they whisper together.)
Mercy (continuing). Where will he take her to?
Horace. To the police-station.
Mercy (to HORACE). Will she be put into prison?
Horace. She will be put into an asylum.
Mercy. What asylum do you mean?
Horace. I mean--the workhouse first, perhaps, and then the madhouse. (MERCY starts back. LADY JANET advances a step. HORACE continues.) What is there to surprise you in that? You yourself told her to her face that she was mad.
Mercy (horror-struck). Oh!
Lady J. (hearing MERCY'S cry.) Horace! what is going on there between you two?
(HORACE joins LADY J., and speaks to her.)
Mercy (to JULIAN). Did you hear what Horace said to me? Why don't you interfere?
Julian (calmly). l am waiting for you.
Mercy. Waiting for me?
Julian. I believe you have a noble nature. I am waiting to see you show it nobly now. (MERCY draws back a step, suddenly understanding him. JULIAN goes on, quoting his own words in low warning tones.) "Own the truth, without the base fear of discovery to drive you to it!"
Mercy (her answers growing firmer and firmer as she proceeds). I will!
Julian. "Do justice to the woman whom you have wronged, while that woman is still powerless to expose you."
Mercy. I will!
Julian. "Sacrifice everything you have gained by the fraud to the sacred duty of atonement. Reveal before them all the higher nature that is in you." Speak!
Mercy. I will!
Julian. I believe you!
(He gives his hand to MERCY. She takes it for a moment. Then turns towards HORACE and LADY JANET, who are still talking together earnestly.)
Mercy (firmly). Lady Janet----!
Lady J. (absorbed in what HORACE is saying to her) You are quite right, Horace. The state of things in this room is too painful to be prolonged. (She points to GRACE.) I charge that woman with forcing her way into my house. Julian, order the police officer to do his duty!
Mercy (to LADY JANET). Lady Janet----!
Lady J. (again interrupting MERCY). Don't be alarmed, my dear. This painful scene must, and shall, be ended. (To JULIAN.) Julian!
Julian (to the police officer). Officer! Take her away!
(The POLICE OFFICER advances. GRACE totters back half-fainting. MERCY springs forward before the man can touch GRACE, and, winding one arm round her, holds her up.)
Mercy (between GRACE and the POLICE OFFICER). Touch her if you dare! (The man draws back in surprise. MERCY, fixing her eyes on him, points with her free hand to the door on the left.) Leave the house!
(LADY JANET and HORACE advance together, thunderstruck at what has happened, to question MERCY. JULIAN mutely expresses his own sense of relief, and his admiration for MERCY. The curtain falls.)
Scene.-- The same as in the First and Second Acts. It is evening. The lamps are lit in the dining-room and the conservatory.
On the rise of the curtain MERCY is discovered. She is very plainly dressed.* But she still wears the brooch, bracelets, and rings which LADY JANET has given her.
*Mercy's dress: In the First and Second Acts she is richly and tastefully attired in a dress which is supposed to have been a present from Lady Janet.
Mercy (looking at her watch). An hour already! An hour since I told the police-officer to leave the house! One more trial to go through--and I shall have restored to Grace Roseberry the position which I have usurped. At six o'clock I have pledged myself to Lady Janet and to Horace to produce Mercy Merrick in this room. There can be no plainer way of making the explanation which they have demanded from me. If I own my name to them, I own the truth in the fewest and the fittest words. Has the servant returned? I sent him to the Refuge some time since. (She rings the bell at the fireplace. The MAN-SERVANT enters on the left.) Have you taken my note to the Matron at the Refuge?
The Servant. Yes, miss. I have just come back.
Mercy. Did you wait for an answer?
(JULIAN GRAY appears in the conservatory, and enters unobserved.)
The Servant (to MERCY). The Matron was engaged at the time, miss. I was told to say that the answer would be sent to you by telegram.
(He bows, and goes out by the door on the left. JULIAN advances. MERCY, seeing him, starts.)
Mercy (in alarm). Has the time come? It is not six o'clock!
Julian. Forgive my intrusion. I have a reason for wishing to speak to you before Lady Janet and Horace return to this room.
Mercy (giving him her hand). You are always welcome. You are my best friend.
Julian. Has anything happened in my absence? I heard the servant tell you to expect a telegram.
Mercy (simply). I have written to the Matron, to ask her to take me back into the Refuge. And she has promised to answer me by telegram. That is all.
Julian (deeply affected). You are going back to the Refuge? Back to the martyrdom of your old life?
Mercy (calmly). What else have I deserved?
Julian (aside). Of her own free will she has made the expiation complete! Noble creature! (To MERCY.) You cannot, you must not, return to the Refuge. Trust your future to me, as your brother and your friend.
Mercy. I am too grateful to you, Mr. Gray, to allow you to sacrifice yourself to my miserable interests. For your own sake, when I leave this house we must part. (JULIAN attempts to speak.) Not a word more--as a favour to me. Where is Miss Roseberry?
Julian. She is waiting to join Lady Janet and Horace in this room, when the clock strikes six.
Mercy. Is Horace----? No! I must not call him Horace now, is Mr. Holmcroft with Lady Janet?
Julian. You saw them leave the room together after the police officer had quitted the house. They have been together ever since. I came here to say a word to you about Horace. There is no time to lose. May I speak now?
Julian. You must have noticed Horace's unworthy distrust of my interest in you. I am ashamed to allude to his jealousy of me at such a time as this--but, in your interests, I am obliged to mention it.
Mercy (in low tones). Go on.
Julian. I have had a warning from Lady Janet. She can control Horace no longer. He refuses to wait until you have made your confession; he is coming here, before it, to question you about Me. (MERCY starts.) Don't he alarmed! You have only to go into the conservatory, and leave me to see Horace alone.
Mercy (firmly). Don't think me insensible to your kindness. I know his temper. I cannot allow you to see him alone.
Julian. You have a terrible ordeal still to go through. He may agitate you at a time when you require all your composure. Let me meet him, and quiet him! Let me help you in this!
Mercy. You have done enough for me already, Mr. Gray. If I leave you with Horace, I may expose you to insult. I refuse to do that. (She looks towards the door on the left.) Hush!
(HORACE enters abruptly on the left. He stops just inside the door, and looks alternately at JULIAN and MERCY.)
Horace (with bitter irony). I knew it! If I could have persuaded Lady Janet to bet, I should have won a hundred pounds! (Suddenly changing to anger, and advancing to JULIAN.) Would you like to hear what the bet was?
Julian (quietly). I should prefer seeing you able to control yourself in the presence of this lady.
Horace (going on). I offered to lay Lady Janet two hundred pounds to one that I should find you here, making love to Miss Roseberry behind my back.
Mercy (to HORACE--interposing). If you cannot speak without insulting one of us, I beg you will not address yourself to Mr. Julian Gray.
Horace (bowing ironically). It's quite needless to defend Mr. Julian Gray. Lady Janet only allowed me to leave her on condition of my behaving with perfect politeness. I have two privileged persons to deal with--a parson and a woman. I beg to apologise if I have forgotten the clergyman's profession and the lady's sex.
Julian. You have forgotten more than that. You have forgotten that you were born a gentleman and. bred a man of honour. It is bad enough to unjustly suspect an old friend. But it is still more unworthy of you to acknowledge your suspicions before a woman whom your own choice has doubly bound you to respect.
Horace (angrily). Keep your advice to yourself! And thank your stars that your profession protects you.
(He walks aside, on the right.)
Julian (calmly). My profession has its obligations, Horace. My profession forbids me to answer you.
Mercy (to JULIAN). Say no more to him! For my sake, for his sake, say no more. (JULIAN retires to the back, on the right, and seats himself, keeping his eye on HORACE. MERCY continues aside). Oh, what a contrast between them! What poor malice, what petty insolence on one side! What manly calmness, what true dignity on the other! (She advances eagerly, and speaks to HORACE.) Don't lower yourself in my estimation at such a moment as this! What do you wish to say to me?
Horace. You owe me an explanation----
Mercy (interrupting him). I have promised you an explanation.
Horace. You know what I mean. I am not asking you now why you sent the police officer out of the house. That is another matter--that is for Lady Janet to hear as well as for me. You have something else to account for, in which I alone am concerned.
Mercy. What have I to account for?
Horace. Your conduct with Julian Gray. You and he have some secret understanding together. He speaks to you confidentially--he is always with you when my back is turned. I have seen you whispering to him. Lady Janet found you in this room with your hand in his. I have a right to ask for an explanation of these things, and I do ask for it.
Mercy (warning him). Don't return to that!
Horace. I insist on returning to it! I insist on an answer! (JULIAN rises.)
Mercy. I refuse to degrade myself and to degrade Mr. Julian Gray by giving you an answer.
Horace. Take care what you are doing! Change your mind before it is too late!
(JULIAN advances a few steps towards them.)
Mercy. You have had my reply.
Horace (breaking out). I say again, Take care! You are placing our engagement in jeopardy. Do you think I will consent to marry a woman who has secrets from me with another man?
Mercy (as before). You have had my reply.
Horace (furiously). You are as false as hell! All is over between you and me.
(JULIAN advances a few steps more. At the same moment, the SERVANT enters by the centre, with a telegram on a salver.)
The Servant (offering the telegram to MERCY). For you, miss.
(MERCY eagerly opens the telegram. JULIAN and HORACE both pause, and look at her. The SERVANT goes out.)
Mercy (to herself). From the Matron! (She reads.) "I feel the same interest in you as ever. I will call this evening, and take you back to the Refuge myself." (She turns to JULIAN, and, handing him the telegram, continues sadly.) The answer that I told you of. You need feel no further anxiety about me now.
(JULIAN reads the telegram.)
Horace (advancing). More secrets! Another private understanding, before my face! (To JULIAN.) What right have you to read that telegram?
Julian (calmly). Gently, Horace!
Horace. Give it to me! (He advances.) Give it up, or it will be the worse for you!
Mercy. Give it to me. (She takes it from JULIAN, and turns to HORACE.) Do you insist on reading it?
Mercy. Read it!
Julian (stopping her as she hands the telegram to HORACE). Spare him! Remember he is unprepared.
Mercy (to HORACE). Do you hear that? After what you have said to him, his great heart forgives and feels for you. (She turns to JULIAN with an irrepressible outburst of admiration.) Oh, if I had met you in past days, what a different life mine might have been!
Horace. Give me the telegram!
Mercy (to JULIAN.) Pray for him and for me. The time has come.
(She gives HORACE the telegram. JULIAN turns away, and hides his face in his hands.)
Horace (reading) "From the Matron, Western District Refuge, to Miss Roseberry, Mablethorpe House." (He looks up at MERCY and speaks.) What does this mean?
Mercy (in low, firm tones). Read the message.
Horace (reading). "I feel the same interest in you as ever. I will call this evening and take you back to the Refuge myself." (To MERCY--with a change to terror in his voice and manner.) This can't be for you?
Mercy (as before). It is for me.
Horace (loudly--in terror). What have you to do with a Refuge?
Mercy (still without any change). I have come from a Refuge; and I am going back to a Refuge. Mr. Horace Holmcroft, I am Mercy Merrick.
(HORACE staggers back with a cry of horror. MERCY rests her hand on a table near her, and stands, waiting her sentence, with her head on her breast. JULIAN hurries to HORACE.)
Horace (waving him back.) Don't touch me! Let me be--let me be! (A pause--he speaks to himself.) Am I out of my senses? Am I deluded by a dream? (To JULIAN.) Julian, did you hear her? Did she really say it? Answer me!
Julian (pointing to MERCY). There is your answer. Look--and pity her!
(HORACE looks at MERCY, and sinks upon the sofa on the left. He speaks his next words faintly to himself.)
Horace. Mercy Merrick! Mercy Merrick!
Julian (to MERCY). Speak to him! rouse him! Tell him all!
Mercy. Have I not told him enough? (She points to him.) See what I have done already! (JULIAN turns to go out by the centre. MERCY continues.) Where are you going?
Julian. You have been hurried into speaking before the appointed time. Let me spare you the hard necessity of repeating your confession. Let me tell Lady Janet the truth, while you remain here!
Horace (rousing himself). Don't leave me, Julian! I'm broken by what I have gone through. Don't leave me!
Mercy (sadly). Stay here--in pity to him, and in pity to me!
(JULIAN signs to her that he yields. She advances slowly towards HORACE. JULIAN speaks aside.)
Julian. She little thinks what she condemns me to suffer. I never loved her as I love her now! (He glances at MERCY--standing before HORACE.) How she looks at him! Can he resist that look? Will he forgive her? (He returns to the place at the back which he has previously occupied.)
Mercy (to HORACE--humbly). Mr. Holmcroft!
Horace (with an outburst of anger). Is the confession of your infamy not complete? Or do you come here to excuse the vile deception which you have practised on me?
Mercy. I have but one excuse--a life without hope. May you never know the temptation which tried me when the shell struck its victim in the French cottage! I had no future to look forward to. I had no friend to advise me. The years of my womanhood had been wasted in the vain struggle to win back my lost place in the world. Such was my position on the fatal day when the Germans attacked the cottage! I was alone with the dead woman. Her name was untainted--her future offered me the position which had been denied to my honest efforts--which was mine if I stooped to win it by a fraud. Thank Mr. Julian Gray if I stand here self-accused of my deception before the man whom I have wronged.
Julian. Thank the noble nature, Horace, which answered when I called upon it. Honour the woman who has told you the truth, at the sacrifice of everything which a woman values most. (HORACE remains silent.)
Mercy (aside, looking at JULIAN.) His heart is the heart that feels for me. His words are the words which comfort and pardon me! (To HORACE.) I have little more to say, Mr. Holmcroft. Miss Roseberry heard the story of my life when we first met. Miss Roseberry can tell you what I have suffered, if you care to know it. I ask your pardon for having once presumed to love you. I renounce all claim on you, as the one atonement which a lost creature can make to the man whom she has deceived. Before we part for ever, sir, will you take my hand as a token that you forgive me?
(She offers him her hand. HORACE hesitates.)
Julian (advancing towards them). Horace! (Aside in deep agitation.) Oh, that I should plead with him to forgive her! I who love her better than my life! Horace! do you hesitate? do you doubt the priceless value of a woman who can speak the truth?
(A pause. HORACE rises to his feet, holds out his hand, hesitates, and draws it back again. The clock strikes six while he is still in doubt. At the last stroke LADY JANET and GRACE ROSEBERRY appear together in the conservatory.)
Horace (with an outburst of despair). I can't forgive her! (He goes out on the left.)
Julian (contemptuously). Horace, I pity you!
(LADY JANET advances to JULIAN, followed by GRACE. LADY JANET'S voice is grave. She is anxious and depressed; she must convey to the audience that GRACE has succeeded in shaking her conviction of MERCY'S innocence.)
Lady J. (to JULIAN). What has he to forgive? And why do you pity him?
(MERCY starts at the sound of LADY J.'s voice. JULIAN makes no answer. He draws back on the right, and stands apart watching MERCY. GRACE points to MERCY, standing with clasped hands, struggling to control herself.)
Grace. Does your Ladyship remember the question which I asked you on our way to this room? What made her interfere when the police officer was going to take me away? Look at her--and see the motive in her face!
Lady J. (to MERCY--gravely and gently, without noticing GRACE). In justice to you I have refused to take the view of your conduct which this lady takes. Am I right? or wrong?
Mercy. My heart is heavy, madam. I dare not answer you. Let my actions speak for me. (She removes the jewels that she wears, and approaches GRACE, who occupies the middle of the stage.) The bounty of Lady Janet gave these jewels to Grace Roseberry. To Grace Roseberry I restore them, in Lady Janet's presence.
(GRACE takes the jewels, and turns to LADY JANET. MERCY remains at the right-hand side of the stage.)
Grace (showing the jewels to LADY JANET). Is your Ladyship answered?
Lady J. (absorbed in her own grief). She has owned it! False? Unworthy of the love she inspired in me? No, I won't believe it even now!
Grace (continuing). I am waiting to receive your Ladyship's apologies.
Lady J. (suddenly turning on GRACE). Miss Roseberry! I would rather be deceived, as I have been deceived-- I would rather suffer as I suffer now--than possess your unforgiving nature. (Controlling herself.) I ask your pardon for the past, and your indulgence for the future.
Grace. My indulgence for the future?
Lady J. For your father's sake, I will make your prospects in life my care. But I cannot give you the place in my heart (she looks at MERCY) which she held. I can never love you, as I loved her.
Grace (coldly). I have no sympathy, madam, with an attachment to an adventuress. If I recover my place in Society, I recover all that I want.
(She goes out by the conservatory. The SERVANT appears at the same moment, at the door on the left, and whispers to JULIAN, who advances to meet him. MERCY observes them, and guesses what has happened.)
Mercy. The Matron is here! (To the SERVANT.). I will not keep the lady waiting.
(The SERVANT goes out. MERCY advances a few steps towards LADY J. --and stops, trembling. LADY J. advances to meet her. JULIAN draws back, observing them.)
Lady J. (gently). You wish to speak to me?
Mercy. My last words in this house, Lady Janet, must be said to you. I am returning to a life of humiliation. The shadow of my old disgrace falls on me once more. We shall never meet again, madam. At this last moment I stand before you in sorrow and in shame. Generous benefactress! Second mother! Does my repentance plead for me?
Lady J. My child! I gave you a mother's love. What is there that a mother's love cannot forgive?
(She offers her hand. MERCY lifts it to her lips. LADY J. takes MERCY in her arms--sighs to herself--and goes out, by the conservatory. MERCY, overwhelmed, sinks crouching on the floor. JULIAN approaches her and softly touches MERCY on the shoulder.)
Julian. Rise, poor wounded heart! Beautiful, purified soul, the angels in heaven rejoice over you! Take your place among the noblest of heaven's creatures!
Mercy (lifting her head). Those words are for better and happier women than I am! My heart's truest gratitude thanks you, sir. (She rises and tries to leave him. JULIAN detains her by the hand.) Let me go! While I can still control myself, let me go!
Julian (in low tones--controlling his agitation). I have something to say to you before you go. All your worldly interests here depended on your concealing the truth. Answer me, in one word--Yes or No. Have you told the truth--to your own prejudice and to your own loss--for conscience' sake?
Mercy (faintly). Yes!
Julian. Is a woman who can make that sacrifice a woman who will prove unworthy of the trust, when a man places in her keeping his honour and his name?
Mercy (vaguely understanding him). Oh!
Julian. Mercy! from the first moment when I saw you I loved you. You are free. I may own it now. I may ask you to be my wife.
Mercy. No, no! Let me go! Think of what you sacrifice! It cannot, must not be!
Julian (drawing back in sudden fear). If you cannot love me say so--and I leave you.
Mercy. How can I say so? Where is the woman in my place whose heart could resist you? Oh, have pity on my weakness! Help me to do my hard duty towards you. Remember how Mr. Holmcroft and Miss Roseberry have treated me. Others will do as they do. The scorn of every creature you know will strike at you through me. (JULIAN tries to speak.) No; not a word more! Spare me! pity me! leave me!
Julian. Leave you? Never! My darling, we will go away from England--we will find a home among new people, in a new world. I am weary of the old world. I despise its narrow prejudices, its mean superstitions. I can be happy anywhere if you are with me. It rests with you, and you alone, to make the happiness or the misery of my life.
Mercy (yielding). Oh! if I could only believe that! If I could make you happy----!
Julian. Look at me! The mere hope that I may prevail on you has made me happy!
Mercy (shyly looking at him). Think of your position!
Julian. The most enviable position I know of is the position of a man who has got a good wife.
Mercy. Think of your friends.
Julian (taking her hand). Here is the nearest and dearest friend of all.
Mercy. What will the world say?
Julian (taking her in his arms). What can the world give me in exchange for You?