The New Magdalen
22. The Man In The Dining-Room
IN the great emergencies of life we feel, or we act, as our dispositions incline us. But we
never think. Mercy's mind was a blank as she descended the stairs. On her way down she
was conscious of nothing but the one headlong impulse to get to the library in the shortest
possible space of time. Arrived at the door, the impulse capriciously left her. She stopped
on the mat, wondering why she had hurried herself, with time to spare. Her heart sank;
the fever of her excitement changed suddenly to a chill as she faced the closed door, and
asked herself the question, Dare I go in?
Her own hand answered her. She lifted it to turn the handle of the lock. It dropped again
helplessly at her side.
The sense of her own irresolution wrung from her a low exclamation of despair. Faint as
it was, it had apparently not passed unheard. The door was opened from within--and
Horace stood before her.
He drew aside to let her pass into the room. But he never followed her in. He stood in the
doorway, and spoke to her, keeping the door open with his hand.
"Do you mind waiting here for me?" he asked.
She looked at him, in vacant surprise, doubting whether she had heard him aright.
"It will not be for long," he went on. "I am far too anxious to hear what you have to tell
me to submit to any needless delays. The truth is, I have had a message from Lady Janet."
(From Lady Janet! What could Lady Janet want with him, at a time when she was bent on
composing herself in the retirement of her own room?)
"I ought to have said two messages," Horace proceeded. "The first was given to me on
my way downstairs. Lady Janet wished to see me immediately. I sent an excuse. A
second message followed. Lady Janet would accept no excuse. If I refused to go to her I
should be merely obliging her to come to me. It is impossible to risk being interrupted in
that way; my only alternative is to get the thing over as soon as possible. Do you mind
"Certainly not. Have you any idea of what Lady Janet wants with you?"
"No. Whatever it is, she shall not keep me long away from you. You will be quite alone
here; I have warned the servants not to show any one in." With those words he left her.
Mercy's first sensation was a sensation of relief--soon lost in a feeling of shame at the
weakness which could welcome any temporary relief in such a position as hers. The