The New Magdalen
Part 7 out of 7
go, to what pitiable self-delusion credulity can consent, we must
watch the proceedings--even while we shrink from them--of a Mercy
Merrick and a Julian Gray.
"In taking up my narrative again where my last letter left off, I
must venture to set you right on one point.
"Certain expressions which have escaped your pen suggest to me
that you blame Julian Gray as the cause of Lady Janet's
regrettable visit to the Refuge the day after Mercy Merrick had
left her house. This is not quite correct. Julian, as you will
presently see, has enough to answer for without being held
responsible for errors of judgment in which he has had no share.
Lady Janet (as she herself told me) went to the Refuge of her own
free-will to ask Mercy Merrick's pardon for the language which
she had used on the previous day. 'I passed a night of such
misery as no words can describe'--this, I assure you, is what her
ladyship really said to me--'thinking over what my vile pride and
selfishness and obstinacy had made me say and do. I would have
gone down on my knees to beg her pardon if she would have let me.
My first happy moment was when I won her consent to come and
visit me sometimes at Mablethorpe House.'
"You will, I am sure, agree with me that such extravagance as
this is to be pitied rather than blamed. How sad to see the decay
of the faculties with advancing age! It is a matter of grave
anxiety to consider how much longer poor Lady Janet can be
trusted to manage her own affairs. I shall take an opportunity of
touching on the matter delicately when I next see her lawyer.
"I am straying from my subject. And--is it not strange?--I am
writing to you as confidentially as if we were old friends
"To return to Julian Gray. Innocent of instigating his aunt's
first visit to the Refuge, he is guilty of having induced her to
go there for the second time the day after I had dispatched my
last letter to you. Lady Janet's object on this occasion was
neither more nor less than to plead her nephew's cause as humble
suitor for the hand of Mercy Merrick. Imagine the descent of one
of the oldest families in England inviting an adventuress in a
Refuge to honor a clergyman of the Church of England by becoming
his wife! In what times do we live! My dear mother shed tears of
shame when she heard of it. How you would love and admire my
"I dined at Mablethorpe House, by previous appointment, on the
day when Lady Janet returned from her degrading errand.
"'Well?' I said, waiting, of course, until the servant was out of
"'Well,' Lady Janet answered, 'Julian was quite right.'
"'Quite right in what?'
"'In saying that the earth holds no nobler woman than Mercy
"'Has she refused him again?'
"'She has refused him again.'
"'Thank God!' I felt it fervently, and I said it fervently. Lady
Janet laid down her knife and fork, and fixed one of her fierce
looks on me.
"'It may not be your fault, Horace,' she said, 'if your nature is
incapable of comprehending what is great and generous in other
natures higher than yours. But the least you can do is to
distrust your own capacity of appreciation. For the future keep
your opinions (on questions which you don't understand) modestly
to yourself. I have a tenderness for you for your father's sake;
and I take the most favorable view of your conduct toward Mercy
Merrick. I humanely consider it the conduct of a fool.' (Her own
words, Miss Roseberry. I assure you once more, her own words.)
'But don't trespass too far on my indulgence--don't insinuate
again that a woman who is good enough (if she died this night) to
go to heaven, is _not_ good enough to be my nephew's wife.'
"I expressed to you my conviction a little way back that it was
doubtful whether poor Lady Janet would be much longer competent
to manage her own affairs. Perhaps you thought me hasty then?
What do you think now?
"It was, of course, useless to reply seriously to the
extraordinary reprimand that I had received. Besides, I was
really shocked by a decay of principle which proceeded but too
plainly from decay of the mental powers. I made a soothing and
respectful reply, and I was favored in return with some account
of what had really happened at the Refuge. My mother and my
sisters were disgusted when I repeated the particulars to them.
You will be disgusted too.
"The interesting penitent (expecting Lady Janet's visit) was, of
course, discovered in a touching domestic position! She had a
foundling baby asleep on her lap; and she was teaching the
alphabet to an ugly little vagabond girl whose acquaintance she
had first made in the street. Just the sort of artful _tableau
vivant_ to impose on an old lady --was it not?
"You will understand what followed, when Lady Janet opened her
matrimonial negotiation. Having perfected herself in her part,
Mercy Merrick, to do her justice, was not the woman to play it
badly. The most magnanimous sentiments flowed from her lips. She
declared that her future life was devoted to acts of charity,
typified, of course, by the foundling infant and the ugly little
girl. However she might personally suffer, whatever might be the
sacrifice of her own feelings--observe how artfully this was put,
to insinuate that she was herself in love with him!--she could
not accept from Mr. Julian Gray an honor of which she was
unworthy. Her gratitude to him and her interest in him alike
forbade her to compromise his brilliant future by consenting to a
marriage which would degrade him in the estimation of all his
friends. She thanked him (with tears); she thanked Lady Janet
(with more tears); but she dare not, in the interests of _his_
honor and _his_ happiness, accept the hand that he offered to
her. God bless and comfort him; and God help her to bear with her
"The object of this contemptible comedy is plain enough to my
mind. She is simply holding off (Julian, as you know, is a poor
man) until the influence of Lady Janet's persuasion is backed by
the opening of Lady Janet's purse. In one word--Settlements! But
for the profanity of the woman's language, and the really
lamentable credulity of the poor old lady, the whole thing would
make a fit subject for a burlesque.
"But the saddest part of the story is still to come.
"In due course of time the lady's decision was communicated to
Julian Gray. He took leave of his senses on the spot. Can you
believe it?-- he has resigned his curacy! At a time when the
church is thronged every Sunday to hear him preach, this madman
shuts the door and walks out of the pulpit. Even Lady Janet was
not far enough gone in folly to abet him in this. She
remonstrated, like the rest of his friends. Perfectly useless! He
had but one answer to everything they could say: 'My career is
closed.' What stuff!
"You will ask, naturally enough, what this perverse man is going
to do next. I don't scruple to say that he is bent on committing
suicide. Pray do not be alarmed! There is no fear of the pistol,
the rope, or the river. Julian is simply courting death--within
the limits of the law.
"This is strong language, I know. You shall hear what the facts
are, and judge for yourself.
''Having resigned his curacy, his next proceeding was to offer
his services, as volunteer, to a new missionary enterprise on the
West Coast of Africa. The persons at the head of the mission
proved, most fortunately, to have a proper sense of their duty.
Expressing their conviction of the value of Julian's assistance
in the most handsome terms, they made it nevertheless a condition
of entertaining his proposal that he should submit to examination
by a competent medical man. After some hesitation he consented to
this. The doctor's report was conclusive. In Julian's present
state of health the climate of West Africa would in all
probability kill him in three months' time.
"Foiled in his first attempt, he addressed himself next to a
London Mission. Here it was impossible to raise the question of
climate, and here, I grieve to say, he has succeeded.
"He is now working--in other words, he is now deliberately
risking his life--in the Mission to Green Anchor Fields. The
district known by this name is situated in a remote part of
London, near the Thames. It is notoriously infested by the most
desperate and degraded set of wretches in the whole metropolitan
population, and it is so thickly inhabited that it is hardly ever
completely free from epidemic disease. In this horrible place,
and among these dangerous people, Julian is now employing himself
from morning to night. None of his old friends ever see him.
Since he joined the Mission he has not even called on Lady Janet
"My pledge is redeemed--the facts are before you. Am I wrong in
taking my gloomy view of the prospect? I cannot forget that this
unhappy man was once my friend, and I really see no hope for him
in the future. Deliberately self-exposed to the violence of
ruffians and the outbreak of disease, who is to extricate him
from his shocking position? The one person who can do it is the
person whose association with him would be his ruin--Mercy
Merrick. Heaven only knows what disasters it may be my painful
duty to communicate to you in my next letter!
"You are so kind as to ask me to tell you something about myself
and my plans.
"I have very little to say on either head. After what I have
suffered--my feelings trampled on, my confidence betrayed--I am
as yet hardly capable of deciding what I shall do. Returning to
my old profession--to the army--is out of the question, in these
leveling days, when any obscure person who can pass an
examination may call himself my brother officer, and may one day,
perhaps, command me as my superior in rank. If I think of any
career, it is the career of diplomacy. Birth and breeding have
not quite disappeared as essential qualifications in _that_
branch of the public service. But I have decided nothing as yet.
"My mother and sisters, in the event of your returning to
England, desire me to say that it will afford them the greatest
pleasure to make your acquaintance. Sympathizing with me, they do
not forget what you too have suffered. A warm welcome awaits you
when you pay your first visit at our house. Most truly yours,
From MISS GRACE ROSEBERRY to MR. HORACE HOLMCROFT.
"DEAR MR. HOLMCROFT--I snatch a few moments from my other
avocations to thank you for your most interesting and delightful
letter. How well you describe, how accurately you judge! If
Literature stood a little higher as a profession, I should almost
advise you--but no! if you entered Literature, how could _you_
associate with the people whom you would be likely to meet?
"Between ourselves, I always thought Mr. Julian Gray an overrated
man. I will not say he has justified my opinion. I will only say
I pity him. But, dear Mr. Holmcroft, how can you, with your sound
judgment, place the sad alternatives now before him on the same
level? To die in Green Anchor Fields, or to fall into the
clutches of that vile wretch--is there any comparison between the
two? Better a thousand times die at the post of duty than marry
"As I have written the creature's name, I may add--so as to have
all the sooner done with the subject--that I shall look with
anxiety for your next letter. Do not suppose that I feel the
smallest curiosity about this degraded and designing woman. My
interest in her is purely religious. To persons of my devout turn
of mind she is an awful warning. When I feel Satan near me--it
will be _such_ a means of grace to think of Mercy Merrick!
"Poor Lady Janet! I noticed those signs of mental decay to which
you so feelingly allude at the last interview I had with her in
Mablethorpe House. If you can find an opportunity, will you say
that I wish her well, here and hereafter? and will you please add
that I do not omit to remember her in my prayers?
"There is just a chance of my visiting England toward the close
of the autumn. My fortunes have changed since I wrote last. I
have been received as reader and companion by a lady who is the
wife of one of our high judicial functionaries in this part of
the world. I do not take much interest in _him_; he is what they
call a 'self-made man.' His wife is charming. Besides being a
person of highly intellectual tastes, she is greatly her
husband's superior--as you will understand when I tell you that
she is related to the Gommerys of Pommery; _not_ the Pommerys of
Gommery, who (as your knowledge of our old families will inform
you) only claim kindred with the younger branch of that ancient
"In the elegant and improving companionship which I now enjoy I
should feel quite happy but for one drawback. The climate of
Canada is not favorable to my kind patroness, and her medical
advisers recommend her to winter in London. In this event, I am
to have t he privilege of accompanying her. Is it necessary to
add that my first visit will be paid at your house? I feel
already united by sympathy to your mother and your sisters. There
is a sort of freemasonry among gentlewomen, is there not? With
best thanks and remembrances, and many delightful anticipations
of your next letter, believe me, dear Mr. Holmcroft,
From MR. HORACE HOLMCROFT to MISS GRACE ROSEBERRY.
"MY DEAR MISS ROSEBERRY--Pray excuse my long silence. I have
waited for mail after mail, in the hope of being able to send you
some good news at last. It is useless to wait longer. My worst
forebodings have been realized: my painful duty compels me to
write a letter which will surprise and shock you.
"Let me describe events in their order as they happened. In this
way I may hope to gradually prepare your mind for what is to
"About three weeks after I wrote to you last, Julian Gray paid
the penalty of his headlong rashness. I do not mean that he
suffered any actual violence at the hands of the people among
whom he had cast his lot. On the contrary, he succeeded,
incredible as it may appear, in producing a favorable impression
on the ruffians about him. As I understand it, they began by
respecting his courage in venturing among them alone; and they
ended in discovering that he was really interested in promoting
their welfare. It is to the other peril, indicated in my last
letter, that he has fallen a victim--the peril of disease. Not
long after he began his labors in the district fever broke out.
We only heard that Julian had been struck down by the epidemic
when it was too late to remove him from the lodging that he
occupied in the neighborhood. I made inquiries personally the
moment the news reached us. The doctor in attendance refused to
answer for his life.
"In this alarming state of things poor Lady Janet, impulsive and
unreasonable as usual, insisted on leaving Mablethorpe House and
taking up her residence near her nephew.
"Finding it impossible to persuade her of the folly of removing
from home and its comforts at her age, I felt it my duty to
accompany her. We found accommodation (such as it was) in a
river-side inn, used by ship-captains and commercial travelers. I
took it on myself to provide the best medical assistance, Lady
Janet's insane prejudices against doctors impelling her to leave
this important part of the arrangements entirely in my hands.
"It is needless to weary you by entering into details on the
subject of Julian's illness.
"The fever pursued the ordinary course, and was characterized by
the usual intervals of delirium and exhaustion succeeding each
other. Subsequent events, which it is, unfortunately, necessary
to relate to you, leave me no choice but to dwell (as briefly as
possible) on the painful subject of the delirium. In other cases
the wanderings of fever-stricken people present, I am told, a
certain variety of range. In Julian's case they were limited to
one topic. He talked incessantly of Mercy Merrick. His invariable
petition to his medical attendants entreated them to send for her
to nurse him. Day and night that one idea was in his mind, and
that one name on his lips.
"The doctors naturally made inquiries as to this absent person. I
was obliged (in confidence) to state the circumstances to them
"The eminent physician whom I had called in to superintend the
treatment behaved admirably. Though he has risen from the lower
order of the people, he has, strange to say, the instincts of a
gentleman. He thoroughly understood our trying position, and felt
all the importance of preventing such a person as Mercy Merrick
from seizing the opportunity of intruding herself at the bedside.
A soothing prescription (I have his own authority for saying it)
was all that was required to meet the patient's case. The local
doctor, on the other hand, a young man (and evidently a red-hot
radical), proved to be obstinate, and, considering his position,
insolent as well. 'I have nothing to do with the lady's
character, and with your opinion of it,' he said to me. 'I have
only, to the best of my judgment, to point out to you the
likeliest means of saving the patient's life. Our art is at the
end of its resources. Send for Mercy Merrick, no matter who she
is or what she is. There is just a chance--especially if she
proves to be a sensible person and a good nurse--that he may
astonish you all by recognizing her. In that case only, his
recovery is probable. If you persist in disregarding his
entreaties, if you let the delirium go on for four-and-twenty
hours more, he is a dead man.'
"Lady Janet was, most unluckily, present when this impudent
opinion was delivered at the bedside.
"Need I tell you the sequel? Called upon to choose between the
course indicated by a physician who is making his five thousand a
year, and who is certain of the next medical baronetcy, and the
advice volunteered by an obscure general practitioner at the East
End of London, who is not making his five hundred a year--need I
stop to inform you of her ladyship's decision? You know her; and
you will only too well understand that her next proceeding was to
pay a third visit to the Refuge.
"Two hours later--I give you my word of honor I am not
exaggerating--Mercy Merrick was established at Julian's bedside.
"The excuse, of course, was that it was her duty not to let any
private scruples of her own stand in the way, when a medical
authority had declared that she might save the patient's life.
You will not be surprised to hear that I withdrew from the scene.
The physician followed my example--after having written his
soothing prescription, and having been grossly insulted by the
local practitioner's refusing to make use of it. I went back in
the doctor's carriage. He spoke most feelingly and properly.
Without giving any positive opinion, I could see that he had
abandoned all hope of Julian's recovery. 'We are in the hands of
Providence, Mr. Holmcroft;' those were his last words as he set
me down at my mother's door.
"I have hardly the heart to go on. If I studied my own wishes, I
should feel inclined to stop here.
"Let me, at least, hasten to the end. In two or three days' time
I received my first intelligence of the patient and his nurse.
Lady Janet informed me that he had recognized her. When I heard
this I felt prepared for what was to come. The next report
announced that he was gaining strength, and the next that he was
out of danger. Upon this Lady Janet returned to Mablethorpe
House. I called there a week ago--and heard that he had been
removed to the sea-side. I called yesterday--and received the
latest information from her ladyship's own lips. My pen almost
refuses to write it. Mercy Merrick has consented to marry him!
"An outrage on Society--that is how my mother and my sisters view
it; that is how _you_ will view it too. My mother has herself
struck Julian's name off her invitation-list. The servants have
their orders, if he presumes to call: 'Not at home.'
"I am unhappily only too certain that I am correct in writing to
you of this disgraceful marriage as of a settled thing. Lady
Janet went the length of showing me the letters--one from Julian,
the other from the woman herself. Fancy Mercy Merrick in
correspondence with Lady Janet Roy! addressing her as 'My dear
Lady Janet,' and signing, 'Yours affectionately!'
"I had not the patience to read either of the letters through.
Julian's tone is the tone of a Socialist; in my opinion his
bishop ought to be informed of it. As for _her_ she plays her
part just as cleverly with her pen as she played it with her
tongue. 'I cannot disguise from myself that I am wrong in
yielding. . . . Sad forebodings fill my mind when I think of the
future. . . . I feel as if the first contemptuous look that is
cast at my husband will destroy _my_ happiness, though it may not
disturb _him_. . . . As long as I was parted from him I could
control my own weakness, I could accept my hard lot. But how can
I resist him after having watched for weeks at his bedside; after
having seen his first smile, and heard his first grateful words t
o me while I was slowly helping him back to life?'
"There is the tone which she takes through four closely written
pages of nauseous humility and clap-trap sentiment! It is enough
to make one despise women. Thank God, there is the contrast at
hand to remind me of what is due to the better few among the sex.
I feel that my mother and my sisters are doubly precious to me
now. May I add, on the side of consolation, that I prize with
hardly inferior gratitude the privilege of corresponding with
"Farewell for the present. I am too rudely shaken in my most
cherished convictions, I am too depressed and disheartened, to
write more. All good wishes go with you, dear Miss Roseberry,
until we meet.
"Most truly yours,
Extracts from the DIARY of THE REVEREND JULIAN GRAY.
. . . ."A month to-day since we were married! I have only one
thing to say: I would cheerfully go through all that I have
suffered to live this one month over again. I never knew what
happiness was until now. And better still, I have persuaded Mercy
that it is all her doing. I have scattered her misgivings to the
winds; she is obliged to submit to evidence, and to own that she
can make the happiness of my life.
"We go back to London to-morrow. She regrets leaving the tranquil
retirement of this remote sea-side place--she dreads change. I
care nothing for it. It is all one to me where I go, so long as
my wife is with me."
"The first cloud has risen. I entered the room unexpectedly just
now, and found her in tears.
"With considerable difficulty I persuaded her to tell me what had
happened. Are there any limits to the mischief that can be done
by the tongue of a foolish woman? The landlady at my lodgings is
the woman, in this case. Having no decided plans for the future
as yet, we returned (most unfortunately, as the event has proved)
to the rooms in London which I inhabited in my bachelor days.
They are still mine for six weeks to come, and Mercy was
unwilling to let me incur the expense of taking her to a hotel.
At breakfast this morning I rashly congratulated myself (in my
wife's hearing) on finding that a much smaller collection than
usual of letters and cards had accumulated in my absence.
Breakfast over, I was obliged to go out. Painfully sensitive,
poor thing, to any change in my experience of the little world
around me which it is possible to connect with the event of my
marriage, Mercy questioned the landlady, in my absence, about the
diminished number of my visitors and my correspondents. The woman
seized the opportunity of gossiping about me and my affairs, and
my wife's quick perception drew the right conclusion unerringly.
My marriage has decided certain wise heads of families on
discontinuing their social relations with me. The facts,
unfortunately, speak for themselves. People who in former years
habitually called upon me and invited me--or who, in the event of
my absence, habitually wrote to me at this season--have abstained
with a remarkable unanimity from calling, inviting, or writing
"It would have been sheer waste of time--to say nothing of its
also implying a want of confidence in my wife--if I had attempted
to set things right by disputing Mercy's conclusion. I could only
satisfy her that not so much as the shadow of disappointment or
mortification rested on my mind. In this way I have, to some
extent, succeeded in composing my poor darling. But the wound has
been inflicted, and the wound is felt. There is no disguising
that result. I must face it boldly.
"Trifling as this incident is in my estimation, it has decided me
on one point already. In shaping my future course I am now
resolved to act on my own convictions--in preference to taking
the well-meant advice of such friends as are still left to me.
"All my little success in life has been gained in the pulpit. I
am what is termed a popular preacher--but I have never, in my
secret self, felt any exultation in my own notoriety, or any
extraordinary respect for the means by which it has been won. In
the first place, I have a very low idea of the importance of
oratory as an intellectual accomplishment. There is no other art
in which the conditions of success are so easy of attainment;
there is no other art in the practice of which so much that is
purely superficial passes itself off habitually for something
that claims to be profound. Then, again, how poor it is in the
results which it achieves! Take my own case. How often (for
example) have I thundered with all my heart and soul against the
wicked extravagance of dress among women--against their filthy
false hair and their nauseous powders and paints! How often (to
take another example) have I denounced the mercenary and material
spirit of the age--the habitual corruptions and dishonesties of
commerce, in high places and in low! What good have I done? I
have delighted the very people whom it was my object to rebuke.
'What a charming sermon!' 'More eloquent than ever!' 'I used to
dread the sermon at the other church--do you know, I quite look
forward to it now.' That is the effect I produce on Sunday. On
Monday the women are off to the milliners to spend more money
than ever; the city men are off to business to make more money
than ever--while my grocer, loud in my praises in his Sunday
coat, turns up his week-day sleeves and adulterates his favorite
preacher's sugar as cheerfully as usual!
"I have often, in past years, felt the objections to pursuing my
career which are here indicated. They were bitterly present to my
mind when I resigned my curacy, and they strongly influence me
"I am weary of my cheaply won success in the pulpit. I am weary
of society as I find it in my time. I felt some respect for
myself, and some heart and hope in my works among the miserable
wretches in Green Anchor Fields. But I can not, and must not,
return among them: I have no right, _now_, to trifle with my
health and my life. I must go back to my preaching, or I must
leave England. Among a primitive people, away from the cities--in
the far and fertile West of the great American continent--I might
live happily with my wife, and do good among my neighbors, secure
of providing for our wants out of the modest little income which
is almost useless to me here. In the life which I thus picture to
myself I see love, peace, health, and duties and occupations that
are worthy of a Christian man. What prospect is before me if I
take the advice of my friends and stay here? Work of which I am
weary, because I have long since ceased to respect it; petty
malice that strikes at me through my wife, and mortifies and
humiliates her, turn where she may. If I had only myself to think
of, I might defy the worst that malice can do. But I have Mercy
to think of--Mercy, whom I love better than my own life! Women
live, poor things, in the opinions of others. I have had one
warning already of what my wife is likely to suffer at the hands
of my 'friends'--Heaven forgive me for misusing the word! Shall I
deliberately expose her to fresh mortifications?--and this for
the sake of returning to a career the rewards of which I no
longer prize? No! We will both be happy--we will both be free!
God is merciful, Nature is kind, Love is true, in the New World
as well as the Old. To the New World we will go!"
"I hardly know whether I have done right or wrong. I mentioned
yesterday to Lady Janet the cold reception of me on my return to
London, and the painful sense of it felt by my wife.
"My aunt looks at the matter from her own peculiar point of view,
and makes light of it accordingly. 'You never did, and never
will, understand Society, Julian,' said her ladyship. 'These poor
stupid people simply don't know what to do. They are waiting to
be told by a person of distinction whether they are, or are not,
to recognize your marriage. In plain English, they are waiting to
be led by Me. Consider it done. I will lead them.'
"I thought my aunt was joking. The event of to-day has shown me
that she is terribly in earnest. Lady Janet has issued
invitations for one of her grand balls at Mablethorpe House; and
sh e has caused the report to be circulated everywhere that the
object of the festival is 'to celebrate the marriage of Mr. and
Mrs. Julian Gray!'
"I at first refused to be present. To my amazement, however,
Mercy sides with my aunt. She reminds me of all that we both owe
to Lady Janet; and she has persuaded me to alter my mind. We are
to go to the ball--at my wife express request!
"The meaning of this, as I interpret it, is that my poor love is
still pursued in secret by the dread that my marriage has injured
me in the general estimation. She will suffer anything, risk
anything, believe anything, to be freed from that one haunting
doubt. Lady Janet predicts a social triumph; and my wife's
despair--not my wife's conviction--accepts the prophecy. As for
me, I am prepared for the result. It will end in our going to the
New World, and trying Society in its infancy, among the forests
and the plains. I shall quietly prepare for our departure, and
own what I have done at the right time--that is to say, when the
ball is over."
"I have met with the man for my purpose--an old college friend of
mine, now partner in a firm of ship-owners, largely concerned in
"One of their vessels sails for America, from the port of London,
in a fortnight, touching at Plymouth. By a fortunate coincidence,
Lady Janet's ball takes place in a fortnight. I see my way.
"Helped by the kindness of my friend, I have arranged to have a
cabin kept in reserve, on payment of a small deposit. If the ball
ends (as I believe it will) in new mortifications for Mercy--do
what they may, I defy them to mortify _me_--I have only to say
the word by telegraph, and we shall catch the ship at Plymouth.
"I know the effect it will have when I break the news to her, but
I am prepared with my remedy. The pages of my diary, written in
past years, will show plainly enough that it is not _she_ who is
driving me away from England. She will see the longing in me for
other work and other scenes expressing itself over and over again
long before the time when we first met."
"Mercy's ball dress--a present from kind Lady Janet--is finished.
I was allowed to see the first trial, or preliminary rehearsal,
of this work of art. I don't in the least understand the merits
of silk and lace; but one thing I know--my wife will be the most
beautiful woman at the ball.
"The same day I called on Lady Janet to thank her, and
encountered a new revelation of the wayward and original
character of my dear old aunt.
"She was on the point of tearing up a letter when I went into her
room. Seeing me, she suspended her purpose and handed me the
letter. It was in Mercy's handwriting. Lady Janet pointed to a
passage on the last page. 'Tell your wife, with my love,' she
said, 'that I am the most obstinate woman of the two. I
positively refuse to read her, as I positively refuse to listen
to her, whenever she attempts to return to that one subject. Now
give me the letter back.' I gave it back, and saw it torn up
before my face. The 'one subject' prohibited to Mercy as sternly
as ever is still the subject of the personation of Grace
Roseberry! Nothing could have been more naturally introduced, or
more delicately managed, than my wife's brief reference to the
subject. No matter. The reading of the first line was enough.
Lady Janet shut her eyes and destroyed the letter--Lady Janet is
determined to live and die absolutely ignorant of the true story
of 'Mercy Merrick.' What unanswerable riddles we are! Is it
wonderful if we perpetually fail to understand one another?"
"The morning after the ball.
"It is done and over. Society has beaten Lady Janet. I have
neither patience nor time to write at length of it. We leave for
Plymouth by the afternoon express.
"We were rather late in arriving at the ball. The magnificent
rooms were filling fast. Walking through them with my wife, she
drew my attention to a circumstance which I had not noticed at
the time. 'Julian,' she said, 'look round among the lades, and
tell me if you see anything strange.' As I looked round the band
began playing a waltz. I observed that a few people only passed
by us to the dancing-room. I noticed next that of those few fewer
still were young. At last it burst upon me. With certain
exceptions (so rare as to prove the rule), there were no young
girls at Lady Janet's ball. I took Mercy at once back to the
reception-room. Lady Janet's face showed that she, too, was aware
of what had happened. The guests were still arriving. We received
the men and their wives, the men and their mothers, the men and
their grandmothers--but, in place of their unmarried daughters,
elaborate excuses, offered with a shameless politeness wonderful
to see. Yes! This was how the matrons in high life had got over
the difficulty of meeting Mrs. Julian Gray at Lady Janet's house.
"Let me do strict justice to every one. The ladies who _were_
present showed the needful respect for their hostess. They did
their duty--no, overdid it, is perhaps the better phrase.
"I really had no adequate idea of the coarseness and rudeness
which have filtered their way through society in these later
times until I saw the reception accorded to my wife. The days of
prudery and prejudice are days gone by. Excessive amiability and
excessive liberality are the two favorite assumptions of the
modern generation. To see the women expressing their liberal
forgetfulness of my wifely misfortunes, and the men their amiable
anxiety to encourage her husband; to hear the same set phrases
repeated in every room--'So charmed to make your acquaintance,
Mrs. Gray; so _much_ obliged to dear Lady Janet for giving us
this opportunity!--Julian, old man, what a beautiful creature! I
envy you; upon my honor, I envy you!'--to receive this sort of
welcome, emphasized by obtrusive hand-shakings, sometimes
actually by downright kissings of my wife, and then to look round
and see that not one in thirty of these very people had brought
their unmarried daughters to the ball, was, I honestly believe,
to see civilized human nature in its basest conceivable aspect.
The New World may have its disappointments in store for us, but
it cannot possibly show us any spectacle so abject as the
spectacle which we witnessed last night at my aunt's ball.
"Lady Janet marked her sense of the proceeding adopted by her
guests by leaving them to themselves. Her guests remained and
supped heartily notwithstanding. They all knew by experience that
there were no stale dishes and no cheap wines at Mablethorpe
House. They drank to the end of the bottle, and they ate to the
last truffle in the dish.
"Mercy and I had an interview with my aunt upstairs before we
left. I felt it necessary to state plainly my resolution to leave
England. The scene that followed was so painful that I cannot
prevail on myself to return to it in these pages. My wife is
reconciled to our departure; and Lady Janet accompanies us as far
as Plymouth--these are the results. No words can express my sense
of relief, now that it is all settled. The one sorrow I shall
carry away with me from the shores of England will be the sorrow
of parting with dear, warm-hearted Lady Janet. At her age it is a
parting for life.
"So closes my connection with my own country. While I have Mercy
by my side I face the unknown future, certain of carrying my
happiness with me, go where I may. We shall find five hundred
adventurers like ourselves when we join the emigrant ship, for
whom their native land has no occupation and no home. Gentlemen
of the Statistical Department, add two more to the number of
social failures produced by England in the year of our Lord
eighteen hundred and seventy-one--Julian Gray and Mercy Merrick.
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