The New Magdalen HTML version
23. Lady Janet At Bay
THE narrative leaves Julian and Mercy for a while, and, ascending to the upper regions
of the house, follows the march of events in Lady Janet's room.
The maid had delivered her mistress's note to Mercy, and had gone away again on her
second errand to Grace Roseberry in her boudoir. Lady Janet was seated at her writing-
table, waiting for the appearance of the woman whom she had summoned to her
presence. A single lamp difused its mild light over the books, pictures, and busts round
her, leaving the further end of the room, in which the bed was placed, almost lost in
obscurity. The works of art were all portraits; the books were all presentation copies from
the authors. It was Lady Janet's fancy to associate her bedroom with memorials of the
various persons whom she had known in the long course of her life--all of them more or
less distinguished, most of them, by this time, gathered with the dead.
She sat near her writing-table, lying back in her easy-chair--the living realization of the
picture which Julian's description had drawn. Her eyes were fixed on a photographic
likeness of Mercy, which was so raised upon a little gilt easel as to enable her to
contemplate it under the full light of the lamp. The bright, mobile old face was strangely
and sadly changed. The brow was fixed; the mouth was rigid; the whole face would have
been like a mask, molded in the hardest forms of passive resistance and surpressed rage,
but for the light and life still thrown over it by the eyes. There was something unutterably
touching in the keen hungering tenderness of the look which they fixed on the portrait,
intensified by an underlying expression of fond and patient reproach. The danger which
Julian so wisely dreaded was in the rest of the face; the love which he had so truly
described was in the eyes alone. They still spoke of the cruelly profaned affection which
had been the one immeasurable joy, the one inexhaustible hope of Lady Janet's closing
life. The brow expressed nothing but her obstinate determination to stand by the wreck of
that joy, to rekindle the dead ashes of that hope. The lips were only eloquent of her
unflinching resolution to ignore the hateful present and to save the sacred past. "My idol
may be shattered, but none of you shall know it. I stop the march of discovery; I
extinguish the light of truth. I am deaf to your words; am blind to your proofs. At seventy
years old, my idol is my life. It shall be my idol still."
The silence in the bedroom was broken by a murmuring of women's voices outside the
Lady Janet instantly raised herself in the chair and snatched the photograph off the easel.
She laid the portrait face downward, among some papers on the table, then abruptly
changed her mind, and hid it among the thick folds of lace which clothed her neck and
bosom. There was a world of love in the action itself, and in the sudden softening of the
eyes which accompanied it. The next moment Lady Janet's mask was on. Any superficial
observer who had seen her now would have said, "This is a hard woman!"
The door was opened by the maid. Grace Roseberry entered the room.