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"If I had been as poor papa expected to leave me," said Miss Marjoribanks, after a little pause, "everything would have gone on as usual: but after your long service here, and so many people as know you, Thomas, you will have no difficulty in getting as good a place; and you know that anything I can say"
"Thank you, Miss," said Thomas; and then he made a pause. "It was not exactly that as I was thinking of; I've set my heart, this many a day, on a little business. If you would be so kind as to speak a word for me to the gentlemen as has the licensing. There ain't nobody as knows better how"
"What kind of a business, Thomas?" said Lucilla, who cheered up a little in ready interest, and would have been very glad if she could have taken a little business too.
"Well, Miss, a kind of a quiet—public-house, if I don't make too bold to name it," said Thomas, with a deprecating air—"not one of them drinking-places, Miss, as, I know, ladies can't abide; but many a man, as is a very decent man, wants his pint o' beer now and again, and their little sort of clubs of a night as well as the gentlefolks; and it's my opinion, Miss, as it's a man's dooty to see as that sort of thing don't go too far, and yet as his fellow-creatures has their bit of pleasure," said Thomas, who naturally took the defensive side.
"I am sure you are quite right," said Lucilla, cheering up more and more, and instinctively, with her old statesmanlike breadth of view, throwing a rapid glance upon the subject to see what capabilities there might be in it; "and I hope you will try always to exercise a good influence—What is all that noise and shouting out of doors?"
"It's one of the candidates, Miss," said Thomas, "as is addressing of the bargemen at the top o' Prickett's Lane."
"Ah !" said Lucilla; and a deep sigh escaped from her bosom. "But you cannot do anything of that kind, you know, Thomas, without a wife."
"Yes, Miss," said Thomas, with great confusion and embarrassment; "that was just what I was going to say. Me and Betsy"
"Betsy!" said Lucilla, with dismay; for it had been Betsy she had specially fixed upon as the handy, willing, cheerful maid who, when there was no gentleman coming in, and little else to do, might keep even this big house in order. She sighed; but it was not in her power, even if she had desired it, to put any restriction upon Betsy's wishes. And it was not without a momentary envy that she received the intelligence. It was life the housemaid was about to enter on—active life of her own, with an object and meaning—clogged by Thomas, no doubt, who did not appear to Lucilla as the bright spot in the picture—but still independent life; whereas her mistress knew of nothing particularly interesting in her own uncertain future. She was roused from her momentary meditation by the distant shouts which came from the top of Prickett's Lane, and sighed again, without knowing it, as she spoke.
"It's a pity you had not got your—little inn," said Lucilla, for the sake of euphony, " six months or a year ago, for then you might have voted for Mr Ashburton, Thomas. I had forgotten about the election until now."
"Not as that needn't stand in the way, Miss," said Thomas, eagerly; "there's Betsy's brother as has it now, and he ain't made up his mind about his vote; and if he knowed as it would be any comfort to you"
"Of course it will be a comfort to me!" said Miss Marjoribanks; and she got up from her chair with a sense that she was still not altogether useless in the world. "Go and speak to him directly, Thomas; and here's one of Mr Ashburton's colours that I made up myself; and tell him that there can be no doubt he is the man for Carlingford; and send up Nancy to me. And I hope Betsy and you will be very happy," said Lucilla. She had been dreadfully down, but the rebound was all the more grateful. "I am not done with yet, and, thank heaven! there must always be something to do," she said to herself when she was alone. And she threw off her shawl, and began to make the drawing-room look like itself; not that it was not perfectly in order, and as neat as a room could be; but still the neatness savoured of Betsy, and not of Lucilla. Miss Marjoribanks, in five minutes, made it look like that cosy empire of hospitality and kindness and talk and wit, and everything pleasant, that it used to be; and then, when she had finished, she sat down and had a good cry, which did not do her any harm.
Then Nancy appeared, disturbed in her preparations for dinner, and with her arms wrapped in her apron, looking glum and defiant. Hers was not the resigned and resourceful preparation for her fate which had appeared in Thomas. She came in, and put the door ajar, and leant her back against the sharp edge. She might be sent off like the rest, if that was Miss Lucilla's meaning—her that had been in the house off and on for more than thirty years; but if it was so, at least she would not give up without unfolding a bit of her mind.
"Come in," said Lucilla, drying her eyes—" come in and shut the door; you had better come and sit down here, Nancy, for I have a great deal to say, and I want to speak to you as a friend."
Nancy shut the door, but she thought to herself that she knew what all this meant, and made but a very little movement into the room, looking more forbidding than ever. "Thank you all the same, Miss Lucilla, but I ain't too old to stand," she said; and stood firm to meet the shock, with her arms folded under her apron, thinking in her heart that it was about one of the almshouses, her horror and hope, that her young mistress was going to speak.
"Nancy," said Lucilla, "I want to tell you what I am going to do. I have to make up my mind for myself now. They all go against me, and one says I should do this and another says I should do that; but I don't think anybody knows me so well as you do. Don't stand at the door. I want to consult you as a friend. I want to ask you a question, and you must answer as if you were before a judge—I have such confidence in you."
Nancy's distrust and defiance gave way a little before this appeal. She came a step nearer, and let the apron drop from her folded arms. "What is it, Miss Lucilla 1—though I ain't pretending to be one to advise," she said, building a kind of intrenchment round her with the nearest chairs.
"You know how things are changed," said Lucilla, "and that I can't stay here as I used to do. People think I should go and live with somebody; but / think, you know—if I was one of those ladies that