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CHAPTER XLIX.

Mr Ashbueton, it may be supposed, had but little time to think on that eventful evening; and yet he was thinking all the way home, as he drove back in the chilly spring night to his own house. If his further course of action had been made in any way to depend upon the events of this day, it was now settled beyond all further uncertainty; and though he was not a man in his first youth, nor a likely subject for a romantic passion, still he was a little excited by the position in which he found himself. Miss Marjoribanks had been his inspiring genius, and had interested herself in his success in the warmest and fullest way; and if ever a woman was made for a certain position, Lucilla was made to be the wife of the Member for Carlingford. Long long ago, at the very beginning of her career, when it was of Mr Cavendish that everybody was thinking, the ideal fitness of this position had struck everybody. Circumstances had changed since then, and Mr Cavendish had fallen, and a worthier hero had been placed in his stead; but though the person was changed, the circumstances remained unaltered. Natural fitness was indeed so apparent, that many people would have been disposed to say that it was Lucilla's duty to accept Mr Ashburton, even independent of the fact that he was perfectly eligible in every other respect.

But with all this the new Member for Carlingford was not able to assure himself that there had been anything particular in Lucilla's manner to himself. With her as with Carlingford, it was pure optimism. He was the best man, and her quick intelligence had divined it sooner than anybody else had done. Whether there was anything more in it, Mr Ashburton could not tell. His own impression was, that she would accept him; but if she did not, he would have no right to complain of "encouragement," or to think himself jilted. This was what he was thinking as he drove home; but at the same time he was very far from being in a desponding state of mind. He felt very nearly as sure that Lucilla would be his wife, as if they were already standing before the Rector in Carlingford Church. He had just won one victory, which naturally made him feel more confident of winning another; and even without entertaining any overexalted opinion of himself, it was evident that, under all the circumstances, a woman of thirty, with two hundred a-year, would be a fool to reject such an offer. And Lucilla was the very furthest in the world from being a fool. It was in every respect the beginning of a new world to Mr Ashburton, and it would have been out of nature had he not been a little excited. After the quiet life he had led at the Firs, biding his time, he had now to look forward to a busy and important existence, half of it spent amid the commotion and ceaseless stir of town. A new career, a wife, a new position, the most important in his district—it was not much wonder if Mr Ashburton felt a little excited. He was fatigued at the same time, too much fatigued to be disposed for sleep; and all these united influences swayed him to a state of mind very much unlike his ordinary sensible calm. All his excitement culminated so in thoughts of Lucilla, that the new Member felt himself truly a lover; and late as the hour was, he took up a candle and once more made a survey all alone of his solitary house.

Nothing could look more dismal than the dark rooms, where there was neither light nor fire—the great desert drawing-room, for example, which stood unchanged as it had been in the days of his grandaunts, the good old ladies who had bequeathed the Firs to Mr Ashburton. He had made no change in it, and carcely ever used it, keeping to his library and diningroom, with the possibility, no doubt, always before him of preparing it in due course of time for his wife. That moment had now arrived, and in his excitement he went into the desolate room with his candle, which just made the darkness visible, and tried to see the dusky curtains and faded carpet, and the indescribable fossil air which everything had. There were the odd little spider-legged stands, upon which the Miss Penrhyns had placed their work-boxes, and the old sofas on which they had sat, and the floods of old tapestrywork with which they had decorated their favourite sitting-room. The sight of it chilled the Member for Carlingford, and made him sad. He tried to turn his thoughts to the time when this same room should be fitted up to suit Lucilla's complexion, and should be gay with light and with her presence. He did all he could to realise the moment when, with a mistress so active and energetic,- the whole place would change its aspect, and glow forth resplendent into the twilight of the county, a central point for all. Perhaps it was his fatigue which gained upon him just at this moment, and repulsed all livelier thoughts; but the fact is, that however willing Lucilla might turn out to be, her image was coy, and would not come. The more Mr Ashburton tried to think of her as in possession here, the more the grim images of the two old Miss Penrhyns walked out of the darkness and asserted their prior claims. They even seemed to have got into the library before him when he went back, though there his fire was burning, and his lamp. After that there was nothing left for a man to do, even though he had been that day elected Member for Carlingford, but to yield to the weakness of an ordinary mortal, and go to bed.

Thoughts very different, but even more disturbing, were going on at the same time in Grange Lane. Poor Mr Cavendish, for one thing, — upbraided by everybody's looks, and even by some people's words— feeling himself condemned, censured, and despised on all sides—smarting under his sister's wild reproaches and her husband's blunt commentary thereupon,—had slunk away from their society after dinner, not seeing now why he should bear it any longer. "By Jove! if it had only been for her sake, you might have left over your philandering for another night," Mr Woodburn had said, in his coarse way; and it was all Mr Cavendish could do to refrain from saying that one time and another he had done quite enough for her sake, but he did not see any reason why he should put up with it any longer. He strolled out of doors, though the town was still in commotion, and could not but think of the sympathetic countenance which had paled to-day at sight of the numbers of the poll. She, by heaven! might have had reason to find fault with

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