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The New Magdalen

19. The Evil Genius
RECOVERING from the first overpowering sensation of surprise, Mercy rapidly
advanced, eager to say her first penitent words. Grace stopped her by a warning gesture
of the hand. "No nearer to me," she said, with a look of contemptuous command. "Stay
where you are."
Mercy paused. Grace's reception had startled her. She instinctively took the chair nearest
to her to support herself. Grace raised a warning hand for the second time, and issued
another command: "I forbid you to be seated in my presence. You have no right to be in
this house at all. Remember, if you please, who you are, and who I am."
The tone in which those words were spoken was an insult in itself. Mercy suddenly lifted
her head; the angry answer was on her lips. She checked it, and submitted in silence. "I
will be worthy of Julian Gray's confidence in me," she thought, as she stood patiently by
the chair. "I will bear anything from the woman whom I have wronged."
In silence the two faced each other; alone together, for the first time since they had met in
the French cottage. The contrast between them was strange to see. Grace Roseberry,
seated in her chair, little and lean, with her dull white complexion, with her hard,
threatening face, with her shrunken figure clad in its plain and poor black garments,
looked like a being of a lower sphere, compared with Mercy Merrick, standing erect in
her rich silken dress; her tall, shapely figure towering over the little creature before her;
her grand head bent in graceful submission; gentle, patient, beautiful; a woman whom it
was a privilege to look at and a distinction to admire. If a stranger had been told that
those two had played their parts in a romance of real life--that one of them was really
connected by the ties of relationship with Lady Janet Roy, and that the other had
successfully attempted to personate her--he would inevitably, if it had been left to him to
guess which was which, have picked out Grace as the counterfeit and Mercy as the true
woman.
Grace broke the silence. She had waited to open her lips until she had eyed her conquered
victim all over, with disdainfully minute attention, from head to foot
"Stand there. I like to look at you," she said, speaking with a spiteful relish of her own
cruel words. "It's no use fainting this time. You have not got Lady Janet Roy to bring you
to. There are no gentlemen here to-day to pity you and pick you up. Mercy Merrick, I
have got you at last. Thank God, my turn has come! You can't escape me now!"
All the littleness of heart and mind which had first shown itself in Grace at the meeting in
the cottage, when Mercy told the sad story of her life, now revealed itself once more. The
woman who in those past times. had felt no impulse to take a suffering and a penitent
fellow-creature by the hand was the same woman who could feel no pity, who could
spare no insolence of triumph, now. Mercy's sweet voice answered her patiently, in low,
pleading tones.
 
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