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It would be vain to follow Lucilla in detail through her consistent and admirable career; nor is it necessary to say that she went on steadily in face of all her discouragements, with that mixture of success and failure which comes natural to all human affairs. The singular thing about it was, that the years passed on, and that she was permitted by the world in general to fulfil her own promise and prophecy about remaining ten years at home to be a comfort to her dear papa. She had been nineteen when she began her career, and she was nine-and-twenty when that little episode occurred with young Dr Rider, before he was married to his present wife. There would have been nothing in the least unsuitable in a marriage between Dr Eider and Miss Marjoribanks, though people who were the best informed never thought either of them had any serious meaning; but, of course, the general public, having had Lucilla for a long time before their eyes,
naturally added on seven or eight years to her age, and concluded her to be a great deal older than the young doctor, though everybody allowed that it would have been a most advantageous match for him in every possible point of view. But, however, it did not come to anything, no more than a great many other nibbles o the same kind did. The period arrived at which Lucilla had thought she might perhaps have begun to go off in her looks, but still there was no immediate appearance of any change of name or condition on her part. Many people quite congratulated themselves on the fact, as it was impossible to imagine what might be the social condition of Grange Lane without Miss Marjoribanks; but it is doubtful whether Lucilla congratulated herself. She was very comfortable, no doubt, in every way, and met with little opposition to speak of, and had things a great deal more in her own hands than she might have had, had there been a husband in the case to satisfy; but notwithstanding, she had come to an age when most people have husbands, and when an independent position in the world becomes necessary to self-respect. To be sure, Lucilla was independent; but then—there is a difference, as everybody knows.
And Miss Marjoribanks could not but feel that the world had not shown that appreciation of her, to which, in her earlier days, she looked forward with so little fear. The ten years, as they had really gone by, were very different from the ten years she had looked forward to, when, in the triumph of her youth, she named that period as the time when she might probably begin to go off, and would be disposed to marry. By this time the drawing-room carpets and curtains had faded a little, and Lucilla had found out that the delicate pale green which suited her complexion was not to call a profitable colour; and nobody could have thought or said that to marry at this period would be in the least degree to swindle the Doctor. Thus the moment had arrived to which she looked forward, but the man had not arrived with it. Ten years had passed, during which she had been at the head of society in Grange Lane, and a great comfort to her dear papa; and now, if there remained another development for Lucilla's character, it was about time that it should begin to show itself. But at the same time, the main element necessary for that new development did not seem at present likely to be found in Grange Lane.
Unless, indeed, it might happen to be found in the person of Mr Ashburton, who was so often in Carlingford that he might be said to form a part of society there. It was he who was related to the Bichmonds, who were a family much respected in the county. He had been at the bar, and even begun to distinguish himself, before old Miss Penrhyn died and left him the Firs. He had begun to distinguish himself, but he had not, it appeared, gone so far as to prevent him from coming down to his new property and settling upon it, and taking his place as a local notability. He was not a man who could be expected to care for evening parties in a provincial town; but he never refused to dine with Dr Marjoribanks, and was generally popular up-stairs, where he always paid a little attention to Lucilla, though nothing very marked and noticeable. Mr Ashburton was not like Mr Cavendish, for instance (if anybody remembered Mr Cavendish), a man whose money might be in the Funds, but who more probably speculated. Everybody knew everything about him, which was an ease to the public mind. The Firs was as well known as Carlingford steeple, and how much it was worth a-year, and everything about it; and so was the proprietor's pedigree, which could be traced to a semi-mythical personage known as old Penrhyn, whose daughter was Sir John Richmond's grandmother. The Firs, it is true, had descended in the female line, but still it is something to know where a man comes from, even on one side,
Mr Ashburton made himself very agreeable in the neighbourhood, and was never above enlightening anybody on a point of law. He used to say that it was kind to give him something to do, which was an opinion endorsed practically by a great many people. It is true that some of his neighbours wondered much to see his patience, and could not make out why he chose to rusticate at the Firs at his age, and with his abilities. But either he never heard these wonderings, or at least he never took any notice of them. He lived as if he liked it, and settled down, and presented to all men an aspect of serene contentment with his sphere. And it would be difficult to say what suggestion or association it was which brought him all of a sudden into Miss Marjoribanks's head, one day, when, seeing a little commotion in Masters's shop, she went in to hear what it was about. The cause of the commotion was an event which had been long expected, and which, indeed, ten years before, had been looked on as a possible thing to happen any day. The wonder was, not that old Mr Chiltern should die, but that he should have lived so long. The ladies in Masters's cried, "Poor dear old man!" and said to each other that however long it might have been expected, a death always seemed sudden at the last. But, to tell the truth, the stir made by this death was rather pleasant than sad. People thought, not of the career which was ended, but of the one which must now begin, and of the excitement of an election, which was agreeable to look forward to. As for Lucilla, when she too had heard the news, and had gone upon her way, it would be vain to assert that a regretful recollection of the