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It must be allowed that Lucilla's decision caused very general surprise in Carlingford, where people had been disposed to think that she would be rather glad, now that things were so changed, to get away. To be sure it was not known for some time; but everybody's idea was that, being thus left alone in the world, and in circumstances so reduced, Miss Marjoribanks naturally would go to live with somebody. Perhaps with her aunt, who had something, though she was not rich; perhaps, after a little, to visit about among her friends, of whom she had so many. Nobody doubted that Lucilla would abdicate at once, and a certain uneasy, yet delicious, sense of freedom had already stolen into the hearts of some of the ladies in Grange Lane. They lamented, it is true, the state of chaos into which everything would fall, and the dreadful loss Miss Marjoribanks would be to society; but still, freedom is a noble thing, and Lucilla's subjects contemplated their emancipation with a certain guilty delight. It was, at the same time, a most fertile subject of discussion in Carlingford, and gave rise to all those lively speculations and consultations, and oft-renewed comparing of notes, which take the place of bets in the feminine community. The Carlingford ladies as good as betted upon Lucilla, whether she would go with her aunt, or pay Mrs Beverley a visit at the Deanery, or retire to Mount Pleasant for a little, where those good old Miss Blunts were so fond of her. Each of these opinions had its backers, if it is not profane to say so; and the discussion which of them Miss Marjoribanks would choose waxed very warm. It almost put the election out of people's heads; and indeed the election had been sadly damaged in interest and social importance by the sad and most unexpected event which had just happened in • Grange Lane.
But when the fact was really known, it would be difficult to describe the sense of guilt and horror which filled many innocent bosoms. The bound of freedom had been premature—liberty and equality had not come yet, notwithstanding that too early unwise ilan of republican satisfaction. It was true that she was in deep mourning, and that for a year, at least, society must be left to its own devices; and it was true, also, that she was poor—which might naturally be supposed a damper upon her energies —but, at the same time, Carlingford knew its Lucilia. As long as she remained in Grange Lane, even though retired and in crape, the constitutional monarch was still present among her subjects; and nobody could usurp her place or show that utter indifference to her regulations which some revolutionaries had dreamed of. Such an idea would have gone direct in the face of the British Constitution, and the sense of the community would have been dead against it. But everybody who had speculated upon her proceedings disapproved of Lucilla in her most unlooked-for resolution. Some could not think how she could bear it, staying on there when everything was so changed; and some said it was a weakness they could never have believed to exist in her; and some—for there are spiteful people everywhere—breathed the names of Cavendish and Ashburton, the rival candidates, and hinted that Miss Marjoribanks had something in her mind to justify her lingering. If Lucilla had not been supported by a conscious sense of rectitude, she must have broken down before this universal disapprobation. Not a soul in the world except one supported her in her resolution, and that was perhaps, of all others, the one least likely to be able to judge.
And it was not for want of opportunity to go elsewhere. Aunt Jemima, as has been seen, did not lose an instant in offering the shelter of her house to her niece; and Mrs Beverley wrote the longest, kindest, most incoherent letter begging her dear Lucilla to come to her immediately for a long visit, and adding, that though she had to go out a good deal into society, she needn't mind, for that everything she could think of would be done to make her comfortable; to which Dr Beverley himself, who was now a dean, added an equally kind postscript, begging Miss Marjoribanks to make her home at the Deanery "until she saw how things were to be." "He would have found me a place, perhaps," Lucilla said, when she folded up the letter—and this was a terrible mode of expression to the genteel ears of Mrs John.
"I wish you would not use such words, my dear," said aunt Jemima; "even if you had been as poor as you thought, my house would always have been a home for you. Thank heaven I have enough for both; you never needed to have thought, under any circumstances, of taking a—a situation. It is a thing I could never have consented to,"—which was a very handsome thing of aunt Jemima to say.
"Thank you, aunt," said Lucilla, but she sighed; for, though it was very kind, what was Miss Marjoribanks to have done with herself in such a dowager establishment? And then Colonel Chiley came in, who had also his proposal to make.
"She sent me," the Colonel said; "it's been a sad business for us all, Lucilla; I don't know when I have felt anything more; and as for her, you know, she has never held up her head since"
"Dear Mrs Chiley!" Miss Marjoribanks said, unable to resist the old affection; "and yet I heard she had sent for Dr Rider directly," Lucilla added. She knew it was quite natural, and perhaps quite necessary, but then it did seem hard that his own friends should be the first to replace her dear papa.
"It was I did that," said the Colonel. "What was a man to do? I was horribly cut up, but I could not stand and see her making herself worse; and I said, you had too much sense to mind"
"So I ought," said Lucilla, with penitence, "but when I remembered where he was last, the very last place"
It was hard upon the Colonel to stand by and see a woman cry. It was a thing he could never stand, as he had always said to his wife. He took the poker, which was his favourite resource, and made one of his tremendous dashes at the fire, to give Lucilla time to recover herself, and then he turned to aunt Jemima, who sat pensively by—
"She sent me," said the Colonel, who did not think his wife needed any other name—"not that I would not have come of my own accord; we want