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The New Magdalen

16. They Meet Again
ABSORBED in herself, Mercy failed to notice the opening door or to hear the murmur of
voices in the conservatory.
The one terrible necessity which had been present to her mind at intervals for a week past
was confronting her at that moment. She owed to Grace Roseberry the tardy justice of
owning the truth. The longer her confession was delayed, the more cruelly she was
injuring the woman whom she had robbed of her identity--the friendless woman who had
neither witnesses nor papers to produce, who was powerless to right her own wrong.
Keenly as she felt this, Mercy failed, nevertheless, to conquer the horror that shook her
when she thought of the impending avowal. Day followed day, and still she shrank from
the unendurable ordeal of confession--as she was shrinking from it now!
Was it fear for herself that closed her lips?
She trembled--as any human being in her place must have trembled--at the bare idea of
finding herself thrown back again on the world, which had no place in it and no hope in it
for her. But she could have overcome that terror--she could have resigned herself to that
doom.
No! it was not the fear of the confession itself, or the fear of the consequences which
must follow it, that still held her silent. The horror that daunted her was the horror of
owning to Horace and to Lady Janet that she had cheated them out of their love.
Every day Lady Janet was kinder and kinder. Every day Horace was fonder and fonder of
her. How could she confess to Lady Janet? how could she own to Horace that she had
imposed upon him? "I can't do it. They are so good to me--I can't do it!" In that hopeless
way it had ended during the seven days that had gone by. In that hopeless way it ended
again now.
The murmur of the two voices at the further end of the conservatory ceased. The billiard-
room door opened again slowly, by an inch at a time.
Mercy still kept her place, unconscious of the events that were passing round her. Sinking
under the hard stress laid on it, her mind had drifted little by little into a new train of
thought. For the first time she found the courage to question the future in a new way.
Supposing her confession to have been made, or supposing the woman whom she had
personated to have discovered the means of exposing the fraud, what advantage, she now
asked herself, would Miss Roseberry derive from Mercy Merrick's disgrace?
Could Lady Janet transfer to the woman who was really her relative by marriage the
affection which she had given to the woman who had pretended to be her relative? No!
All the right in the world would not put the true Grace into the false Grace's vacant place.
The qualities by which Mercy had won Lady Janet's love were the qualities which were
 
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