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ent—one feels it the moment one crosses the Channel; there is something different in the very air."
"It smells different, I know," said Lucilla, meekly; and then the conversation was interrupted by that afternoon cup of tea, which Nancy could not be got to think was an extravagance, and around which, to tell the truth, the Grange Lane ladies began to resume their habit of gathering—though Miss Marjoribanks, of course, was still quite unequal to society—as in the old times.
"And unless it is for a very short time, Lucilla," Mrs Centum said, who had joined them, "you never can keep it up, you know. I could not pretend to afford Nancy, for my part; and when a cook is extravagant she may promise as faithfully as you please, and make good resolutions, and all that; but when it is in her, Lucilla—I am sure one or two receipts she has given me have been quite ridiculous. You don't like to give in, I know, but you'll be driven to give in; and if she does not get you into debt as well, you will be very lucky. I know what it is. With my family, you know, a week of Nancy would make an end of me."
"And the worst of all is," said Lady Richmond, who had driven in expressly to add her mite to the treasure of precious counsel, of which Miss Marjoribanks was making so little use, "that I am sure Lucilla is overestimating her strength. She will find after that she is not equal to it, you know; all the associations—and the people coming at night to ask for the Doctor—and —and all that. I know it would kill me."
"Dear Lady Richmond," said Lucilla, making a desperate stand, and setting, as it were, her back against a rock, "don't you think I can bear it best here where you are all so kind to me; and where everybody was so fond of—of him? You can't think what a comfort it is to me," said Lucilla, with a sob, "to see all the hatbands upon the gentlemen's hats."
And then there was a pause, for this was an argument against which nobody could find anything to say.
"For my part, I think the only thing she can do is to take Inmates," said aunt Jemima. "If I were obliged to leave she would be so very lonely. I have known ladies do it who were in a very good position, and it made no difference; people visited them all the same. She could say, 'In consequence of changes in the family,' or 'A lady who has a larger house than she requires ;' which I am sure is quite true. It goes to one's heart to think of all these bedrooms, and only one lady to sleep in them all—when so many people are so hampered for want of room. Or she might say, 'For the sake of society;' for, I am sure, if I should have to go away"
"But I hope you are not going away. It would be so sad for Lucilla to be left alone," said Lady Richmond, who took a serious view of everything, "at such a time."
"Oh, no!" aunt Jemima said, faltering a little; and then a pink blush, which seemed strangely uncalled for in such a mild little tea-party, came over her mature countenance; "but then one can never tell what may happen. I might have other duties—my son might make a call upon my time. Not that I know of anything at present," she added, hurriedly, "but I never can bind myself on account of Tom"
And then she caught Lucilla's eye, and grew more confused than ever. "What could she have to be confused about? If Tom did make a call upon her time, whatever that might mean, there was nothing in it to call a blush upon his mother's face. And the fact was, that a letter had come from Tom a day or two before, of which, contrary to all her usual habits, aunt Jemima had taken no notice to Lucilla. These were things which would have roused Miss Marjoribanks's curiosity if she had been able to think about anything, as she said. But her visitors were taking their cup of tea all the time, in a melancholy, half-sympathetic, half-disapproving way, and they could not be expected to see anything particularly interesting in aunt Jemima's blush.
And then Rose Lake came in from Grove Street, who was rather an unusual visitor, and whose appearance, though they were all very kind and gracious to her, rather put the others to flight; for nobody had ever quite forgotten or forgiven Barbara's brief entrance into society and flirtation with Mr Cavendish, which might be said to have been the beginning of all that happened to him in Grange Lane. As for Mrs Centum, she took her leave directly, and pressed Lucilla's hand, and could not help saying in her ear that she hoped the other was not coming back to Carlingford to throw herself in poor Mr Cavendish's way. "It would do him so much harm," Mrs Centum said, anxiously; "but oh! I forgot, Lucilla, you are on the other side."
"I am on no side now," said Miss Marjoribanks, with plaintive meaning; "and Barbara was as old as I am, you know, and she must have gone off."
"I have no doubt she has gone off," said Mrs Centum, with righteous indignation. "As old as you, Lucilla! She must be ten years older at least; and such a shocking style of looks—if men were not so infatuated! And you have not gone off at all, my poor dear," she added, with all the warmth of friendship! And then they were joined at the door by the county lady, who was the next to go away.
"My dear, I hope you will be guided for the best," Lady Kichmond said as she went away; but she gave a deep sigh as she kissed Lucilla, and looked as if she had very little faith in the efficacy of her own wish. Maria Brown had withdrawn to another part of the drawing-room with aunt Jemima, so that Lucilla was, so to speak, left alone with Rose. And Rose, too, had come with the intention of giving advice.
"I hear you are going to stay, Lucilla," she said, "and I did not think I would be doing my duty if I did not tell you what was in my mind. I can't do any good to anybody, you know; but you who are so clever, and have so much in your power"
"I am poor now," said Miss Marjoribanks; "and as for being elever, I don't know about that. I never was clever about drawing or Art, like you."
"Oh, like me!" said poor little Rose, whose Career had been sacrificed ten years ago, and who was a little misanthropical now, and did not believe even in Schools of Design; "lam not so sure about the moral influence of Art as I used to be—except High Art, to be sure; but we never have any High Art down here. And oh, Lucilla! the poor people do want something done for them. If I was as clever as you, with a great house all to myself like this, and well off, and with
plenty of influence, and no ties "said Rose, with
energetic emphasis. She made a pause there, and she was so much in earnest that the tears came into her eyes. "I would make it a House of Mercy, Lucilla!