time when Mr Cavendish was thought a likely man to succeed Mr Chiltern did not occur to her. But when Miss Marjoribanks had dismissed that transitory thought, Mr Ashburton suddenly came into her head by one of those intuitions which have such an effect upon the mind that receives them. Lucilla was not of very marked political opinions, and perhaps was not quite aware what Mr Ashburton's views were on the Irish Church question, or upon parliamentary reform; but she said after, that it came into her mind in a moment, like a flash of lightning, that he was the man. The idea was so new and so striking, that she turned back and went, in the excitement of the moment, to suggest it to Mrs Chiley, and see what her old friend and the Colonel would say. Of course, if such a thing was practicable, there was no time to lose. She turned round quickly, according to her prompt nature; and such was her absorbed interest in the idea of Mr Ashburton, that she did not know until she had almost done it, that she was walking straight into her hero's arms.

"Oh, Mr Ashburton!" said Lucilla, with a little scream, "is it you? My mind was quite full of you. I could not see you for thinking. Do come back with me, for I have something very particular to say"

"To me?" said Mr Ashburton, looking at her with a smile and a sudden look of interest; for it is always slightly exciting to the most philosophical mortal to know that somebody else's mind is full of him. "What you have said already is so flattering"

"I did not mean anything absurd," said Miss Marjoribanks. "Don't talk any nonsense, please. Mr Ashburton, do you know that old Mr Chiltern is dead?"

Lucilla put the question solemnly, and her companion grew a little red as he looked at her. "It is not my fault," he said, though he still smiled; and then he grew redder and redder, though he ought to have been above showing such signs of emotion; and looked at her curiously, as if he would seize what she was going to say out of her eyes or her lips before it was said.

"It is not anything to laugh about," said Lucilla. "He was a very nice old man; but he is dead, and somebody else must be Member for Carlingford: that was why I told you that my mind was full of you. I am not in the least superstitious," said Miss Marjoribanks, solemnly; "but when I stood there—there, just in front of Mr Holden's — you came into my mind like a flash of lightning. I was not thinking of you in the least, and you came into my mind like—like Minerva, you know. If it was not an intimation, I don't know what it was. And that was why I ran against you, and did not see you were there. Mr Ashburton, it is you who must be the man," said Lucilla. It was not a thing to speak lightly about, and for her part she spoke very solemnly; and as for Mr Ashburton, his face flushed deeper and deeper. He stood quite still in the excitement of the moment, as if she had given him a blow.

"Miss Marjoribanks, I don't know how to answer you," he cried; and then he put out his hand in an agitated way and grasped her hand. "You are the only creature in Carlingford, man or woman, that has divined me," he said, in a trembling voice. It was a little public at the top of Grange Lane, where people were liable to pass at every moment; but still Miss Marjoribanks accepted the pressure of the hand, which, to be sure, had nothing whatever to do with love-making. She was more shy of such demonstrations than she had been in her confident youth, knowing that in most cases they never came to anything, and at the same time that the spectators kept a vivid recollection of them; but still, in the excitement of the moment, Miss Marjoribanks accepted and returned in a womanly way the pressure of Mr Ashburton's hand.

"Come in and let us talk it over," Lucilla said, feeling that no time was to be lost. It was a conference very different from that which, had Mr Chiltern been so well advised as to die ten years before, might have been held in Dr Marjoribanks's drawing-room over his successor's prospects; but at the same time there was something satisfactory to the personal sentiments of both in the way in which this conversation had come about. When Lucilla took off her hat and sat down to give him all her attention, Mr Ashburton could not but feel the flattering character of the interest she was taking in him. She was a woman, and young (comparatively speaking), and was by no means without admirers, and unquestionably took the lead in society; and to be divined by such a person was perhaps, on the whole, sweeter to the heart of the aspirant than if Colonel Chiley had found out his secret, or Dr Marjoribanks, or even the Rector: and Lucilla for her part had all that natural pleasure in being the first to embrace a new interest which was natural under the circumstances. "Let us talk it all over," she said, giving Mr Ashburton a chair near her own. "If I believed in spirit-rapping, you know, I should be sure that was what it meant. I was not thinking of you in the least, and all at once, like a flash of lightning—Mr Ashburton, sit down and tell me—what is the first thing that must be done?"

"If I could ask you to be on my committee, that would be the first thing to be done," said Mr Ashburton, "but unfortunately I can't do that. Let me tell you in the first place how very much I am obliged"

"Don't say that, please," said Miss Marjoribanks, with her usual good sense, "for I have done nothing. JJtit papa can be on the committee, and old Colonel Cliiley, who is such a one for politics; and of course Sir John—that will be a very good beginning; and after that"

"My dear Miss Marjoribanks," Mr Ashburton said, with a smile, and a little hesitation, "Sir John takes exactly the other side in politics; and I am afraid the Doctor and the Colonel are not of the same way of thinking; and then my opinions"

"If they are not of the same way of thinking we must make them," said Lucilla: "after having such an intimation, I am not going to be put off for a trifle; and besides, what does it matter about opinions? I am sure I have heard you all saying over and over that the thing was to have a good man. Don't go and make speeches about opinions. If you begin with that, there is no end to it," said Miss Marjoribanks. "I know what you gentlemen are. But if you just say distinctly that you are the best man"

"It would be an odd thing to say for one's self," said Mr Ashburton, and he laughed; but, to tell the truth, he was not a man of very quick understanding, and at the first outset of the thing he did not understand Lucilla; and he was a little —just

« ForrigeFortsett »