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The Rector was by no means contemptible, either as an adversary or a supporter—and the worst of it was that, in embracing Mr Cavendish's claims, he could scarcely help speaking of Mr Ashburton as if he was in a very bad way. And feeling began to rise rather high in Carlingford. If anything could have deepened the intensity of Miss Marjoribanks's grief, it would have been to know that all this was going on, and that affairs might go badly with her candidate, while she was shut up, and could give no aid. It was hard upon her, and it was hard upon the candidates themselves— one of whom had thus become generally disapproved of, without, so far as he knew, doing anything to deserve it; while the other occupied the still more painful character of being on his promotion—a repentant man, with a character to keep up. It was no wonder that Mrs Centum grew pale at the very idea of such a creature as Barbara Lake throwing herself in poor Mr Cavendish's way. A wrong step one way or other— a relapse into the ways of wickedness—might undo in a moment all that it had cost so much trouble to do. And the advantage of the Sector's support was thus grievously counterbalanced by what might be called the uncertainty of it—especially as Mr Cavendish was not, as his committee lamented secretly among themselves, a man of strong will or business habits, in whom implicit confidence could be placed. He might get restive, and throw the Rector over just at the critical moment; or he might relapse. into his lazy Continental habits, and give up church-going and other good practices. But still, up to this moment, he had shown very tolerable perseverance; and Mr Bury's influence thrown into his scale had equalised matters very much, and made the contest very exciting. All this Lucilla heard, not from Mr Cavendish, but from her own candidate, who had taken to calling in a steady sort of way. He never went into any effusions of sympathy, for he was not that kind of man; but he would shake hands with her, and say that people must submit to the decrees of Providence; and then he would speak of the election and of his chances. Sometimes Mr Ashburton was despondent, and then Lucilla cheered him up; and sometimes he had very good hopes.
"I am very glad you are to be here," he said on one of these occasions. "It would have been a great loss to me if you had gone away. I shall never forget our talk about it here that day, and how you were the first person that found me out."
"It was not any cleverness of mine," said Lucilla. "It came into my mind all in a moment, like spiritrapping, you know. It seems so strange to talk of that now; there have been such changes since then— it looks like years."
"Yes," said Mr Ashburton, in his steady way. "There is nothing that really makes time look so long; but we must all bow to these dispensations, my dear Miss Marjoribanks. I would not speak of the election, but that I thought it might amuse you. The writs are out now, you know, and it takes place on Monday week."
Upon which Miss Marjoribanks smiled upon Mr Ashburton, and held out her hands to him with a gesture and look which said more than words. "You know you will have all my best wishes," she said; and the candidate was much moved—more moved than at such a moment he had thought it possible to be.
"If I succeed, I know whom I shall thank the most," he said, fervently; and then, as this was a climax, and it would have been a kind of bathos to plunge into ordinary details after it, Mr Ashburton got up, still holding Lucilla's hand, and clasped it almost tenderly as he said good-bye. She looked very well in her mourning, though she had not expected to do so; for black was not Lucilla's style. And the fact was, that instead of having gone off, as she herself said, Miss Marjoribanks looked better than ever she did, and was even embellished by the natural tears which still shone by times in her eyes. Mr Ashburton-went out in a kind of bewilderment after this interview, and forgot his overcoat in the hall, and had to come back for it, which was a confusing circumstance; and then he went on his way with a gentle excitement which was not unpleasant. "Would she, I wonder?" he said to himself, as he went up Grange Lane. Perhaps he was only asking himself whether Lucilla would or could be present along with Lady Eichmond and her family at the window of the Blue Boar on the great day; but if that was it, the idea had a certain brightening and quickening influence upon his face and his movements. The doubt he had on the subject, whatever it was, was not a discouraging, but a piquant, stimulating, exciting doubt. He had all but proposed the question to his committee when he went in among them, which would have filled these gentlemen with wonder and dismay. But though he did not do that, he carried it home with him, as he trotted back to the Firs to dinner. Mr Ashburton took a walk through his own house that evening, and examined all its capabilities—with no particular motive, as he was at pains to explain to his housekeeper; and again he said to himself, "Would she, I wonder?" before he retired for the night; which was no doubt an unusual sort of iteration for so sensible a man, and one so fully occupied with the most important affairs, to make.
As for Lucilla, she was not in the way of askiDg herself any questions at that moment. She was letting things take their course, and not interfering; and consequently, nothing that happened could be said to be her fault. She carried this principle so far, that even when aunt Jemima was herself led to open the subject, in a hesitating way, Miss Marjoribanks never even asked a single question about Tom's last letter. She was in mourning, and that was enough for her. As for appearing at the window of the Blue Boar with Lady Richmond, if that was what Mr Ashburton was curious about, he might have saved himself the trouble of any speculations on the subject. For though Miss Marjoribanks would be very anxious about the election, she would indeed have been ashamed of herself could her feelings have permitted her to appear anywhere in public so soon. Thus, while Mr Ashburton occupied himself much with the question which had taken possession of his mind, Lucilla took a good book, which seemed the best reading for her in her circumstances, and when she had looked after all her straitened affairs in the morning, sat down sweetly in the afternoon quiet of her retirement and seclusion, and let things take their way.