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The New Magdalen

11. The Dead Alive
JUST inside the door there appeared the figure of a small woman dressed in plain and
poor black garments. She silently lifted her black net veil and disclosed a dull, pale,
worn, weary face. The forehead was low and broad; the eyes were unusually far apart; the
lower features were remarkably small and delicate. In health (as the consul at Mannheim
had remarked) this woman must have possessed, if not absolute beauty, at least rare
attractions peculiarly her own. As it was now, suffering--sullen, silent, self-contained
suffering--had marred its beauty. Attention and even curiosity it might still rouse.
Admiration or interest it could excite no longer.
The small, thin, black figure stood immovably inside the door. The dull, worn, white face
looked silently at the three persons in the room.
The three persons in the room, on their side, stood for a moment without moving, and
looked silently at the stranger on the threshold. There was something either in the woman
herself, or in the sudden and stealthy manner of her appearance in the room, which froze,
as if with the touch of an invisible cold hand, the sympathies of all three. Accustomed to
the world, habitually at their ease in every social emergency, they were now silenced for
the first time in their lives by the first serious sense of embarrassment which they had felt
since they were children in the presence of a stranger.
Had the appearance of the true Grace Roseberry aroused in their minds a suspicion of the
woman who had stolen her name, and taken her place in the house?
Not so much as the shadow of a suspicion of Mercy was at the bottom of the strange
sense of uneasiness which had now deprived them alike of their habitual courtesy and
their habitual presence of mind. It was as practically impossible for any one of the three
to doubt the identity of the adopted daughter of the house as it would be for you who read
these lines to doubt the identity of the nearest and dearest relative you have in the world.
Circumstances had fortified Mercy behind the strongest of all natural rights--the right of
first possession. C!circumstances had armed her with the most irresistible of all natural
forces--the force of previous association and previous habit. Not by so much as a hair-
breadth was the position of the false Grace Roseberry shaken by the first appearance of
the true Grace Roseberry within the doors of Mablethorpe House. Lady Janet felt
suddenly repelled, without knowing why. Julian and Horace felt suddenly repelled,
without knowing why. Asked to describe their own sensations at the moment, they would
have shaken their heads in despair, and would have answered in those words. The vague
presentiment of some misfortune to come had entered the room with the entrance of the
woman in black. But it moved invisibly; and it spoke as all presentiments speak, in the
Unknown Tongue.
A moment passed. The crackling of the fire and the ticking of the clock were the only
sounds audible in the room.
 
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