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Thomas for being reduced so low as to sweep her -own hearth. But Lucilla was very far from pitying her own case. She had been making an effort over herself, and she had come out of it triumphant; after reading so many good books, it is not to be wondered at if she felt herself a changed and softened and elevated character. She had the means in her hands of doing her candidate's rival a deadly mischief, and yet, for old friendship's sake, Lucilla made up her mind to forbear.
"I will give it you, Thomas," she said, with dignity, holding the hearth-brush, which was in such circumstances elevated into something sublime, "if you will promise, never, until after the election—never to say a word about Mr Cavendish and Miss Lake. It was quite right to tell me, and you are very kind about the hearth; but you must promise never to say a syllable about it, not even to Nancy, until the election is over; or I will never give it you, nor ask you to do a single thing for me again."
Thomas was so much struck with this address that he said " Good Lord!" in sheer amazement; and then he made the necessary vow, and took the hearth-brush out of Lucilla's hand.
"No doubt he was asking for Mr Lake's vote," said Miss Marjoribanks. "They say everybody is making great exertions, and you know they are both my friends. I ought to be pleased whoever wins. But it is impressed on my mind that Mr Ashburton will be the man," Lucilla added, with a little solemnity, " and, Thomas, we must give them fair-play."
It-would be vain to assert that Thomas understood this romantic generosity, but he was taken by surprise, and had relinquished his own liberty in the matter, and had nothing further to say. Indeed he had so little to say down-stairs, that Nancy, who was longing for a little gossip, insulted and reviled him, and declared that since he took up with that Betsy there never was a sensible word to be got out of him. And all the time the poor man was burning with this bit of news. Many a man has bartered his free-will before under the influence of female wiles, or so at least history would have us believe; but few have done it for so poor a compensation as that hearth-brush. Thomas withdrew sore at heart, longing for the election to be over, and kept his word like an honest man; but notwithstanding, before the evening was over, the fatal news was spreading like fire to every house in Grange Lane.
It is probable that Mr Cavendish considered the indulgence above recorded all the more excusable in that it was Saturday night. The nomination was to take place on Monday, and if a man was not to be supposed to be done with his work on the Saturday evening, when could he be expected to have a moment of repose? He had thought as he went home—for naturally, while putting himself so skilfully in the way of temptation, such questions had not entered into his mind—that the fact of to-morrow being Sunday would effectually neutralise any harm he could have been supposed to have done by a visit so simple and natural, and that neither his sister nor his committee, the two powers of which he stood in a certain awe, could so much as hear of it until the election was over, and all decided for good or for evil. This had been a comfort to his mind, but it was the very falsest and most deceitful consolation. That intervening Sunday was a severer calamity for Mr Cavendish than half-a-dozen ordinary days. The general excitement had risen so high, and all the chances on both sides had been so often discussed and debated, that something new was as water in the desert to the thirsting constituency. The story was all through Grange Lane that very night, but Carlingford itself, from St Iioque's to the wilderness of the North End, tingled with it next morning. It is true, the Rector made no special allusion to it in his sermon, though the tone of all his services was so sad, and his own fine countenance looked so melancholy, that Mr Bury's devoted followers could all see that he had something on his mind. But Mr Tufton at Salem Chapel was not so reticent. He was a man quite famous for his extempore gifts, and who rather liked to preach about any very recent public event, which it was evident to all his hearers could not have found place in a "prepared" discourse; and his sermon that morning was upon wickedness in high places, upon men who sought the confidence of their fellows only to betray it, and offered to the poor man a hand red with his sister's (metaphorical) blood.
But it would be wrong to say that this was the general tone of public opinion in Grove Street; most people, on the contrary, thought of Mr Cavendish not as a wolf thirsting for the lamb's blood, but rather himself as a kind of lamb caught in the thicket, and about to be offered up in sacrifice. Such was the impression of a great many influential persons who had been wavering hitherto, and inclining on the whole to Mr Cavendish's liberal principles and supposed Low-Church views. A man whose hand is red metaphorically with your sister's blood is no doubt a highly objectionable personage; but it is doubtful whether, under the circumstances, an enlightened constituency might not consider the man who had given a perfectly unstained hand to so thoroughly unsatisfactory a sister as more objectionable still; and the indignation of Grange Lane at Barbara's reappearance was nothing to the fury of George Street, and even of Wharfside, where the bargees began to scoff openly. Society had nothing worse to say than to quote Mrs Chiley, and assert that "these artist people were all adventurers;" and then Grange Lane in general could not forget that it "had met" Barbara, nor dismiss from its consideration her black eyes, her level brows, and her magnificent contralto; whereas in the other region the idea of the Member for Carlingford marrying "that sort!" cast all the world into temporary delirium. It was a still more deadly offence to the small people than to the great. And the exceptional standing which poor Mr Lake and his daughter Bose used to lay claim to—the "rank of their own" which they