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"I wish I might but prove the best man for something else," said the candidate, nervously; and then he cleared his throat. "I would say you had been kind if I did not hope—if I was not so very anxious that you should be something more than kind. It may be vain of me, but I think we could get on together.
I think I could understand you, and do you justice
Lucilla! what is the matter? Good heavens! is it possible that I have taken you quite by surprise?"
"What caused this question was, that Miss Marjoribanks had all at once changed colour, and given a great start, and put her hand to her breast, where her heart had taken such a leap that she felt it in her throat. But it was not because of what Mr Ashburton was saying; it was because of one of the very commonest sounds of everyday existence — a cab driving down Grange Lane; but then it was a cab driving in such a way that you could have sworn there was somebody in it in a terrible hurry, and who had just arrived by the twelve o'clock train.
"Oh no, no," said Miss Marjoribanks; "I know you have always done me more than justice, Mr Ashburton, and so have all my friends; and I am sure we always will get on well together. I wish you joy with all my heart, and I wish you every happiness; and I always thought, up to this very last moment"
Lucilla stopped again, and once more put her hand to her breast Her heart gave another jump, and, if such a thing were possible to a heart, went off from its mistress altogether, and rushed down-stairs bodily to see who was coming. Yet, with all her agitation, she had still enough self-control to lift an appealing look—a look which threw herself upon his mercy, and implored his forbearance—to Mr Ashburton's face.
As for the Member for Carlingford, he was confounded, and could not tell what to make of it. What was it she had thought up to the very last moment? Was this a refusal, or was she only putting off his claim, or was it something altogether independent of him and his intentions that agitated Lucilla to such an unusual extent? While he sat in his confusion . trying to make it out, the most startling sound interrupted the interview. The old disused bell that had so often called Dr Marjoribanks up at night, and which hung near the door of the old Doctor's room, just over the drawing-room, began to peal through the silence, as if rung by a hand too impatient to notice what it was with which it made its summons.
"Papa's bell!" Miss Marjoribanks cried, with a little shriek; and she got up trembling, and then dropped upon her seat again, and in her agitated state burst into tears. And Mr Ashburton felt that, under these most extraordinary circumstances, even so sensible a woman as Lucilla might be justified in fainting, embarrassing and uncomfortable as that would be.
"I will go and see what it means," he said, with still half the air of a man who had a right to go and see, and was, as it were, almost in his own house. As he turned round, the door bell pealed wildly below in correction of the mistake. It was evident that somebody wanted admission who had not a moment to lose, and who was in the habit of pulling wildly at whatever came in his way. Mr Ashburton went out of the room to see who it was, a little amused and a little alarmed, but much annoyed at bottom, as was only natural, at such an interruption. He did not very well know whether he was accepted or rejected; but it was equally his duty in either case to put a stop to the ringing of that ghostly bell. He went away, meaning to return immediately and have it out and know his fate. And Lucilla, whose heart had come back, having fully ascertained who it was, and was now choking her with its beating, was left to await the new event and the new-comer alone.
Me Ashbueton went away from Lucilla's side, thinking to come back again, and clear everything up; but he did not come back. Though he heard nothing, and saw nothing, that could throw any distinct light on the state of her mind, yet instinct came to his aid, it is to be supposed, in the matter. He did not return: and Lucilla sat on her sofa with her hands clasped together to support her, and her heart leaping in her very mouth. She was in a perfect frenzy of suspense, listening with her whole heart and soul; but that did not prevent the same crowd of thoughts which had been persecuting her for twenty-four hours from keeping up their wild career as before. What reason had she to suppose that "any one" had arrived? Who could arrive in that accidental way, without a word of warning? And what possible excuse had she to offer to herself for sending the new member for Carlingford —a man so excellent and honourable and eligible— away? The minutes, or rather the seconds, passed over Miss Marjoribanks like hours, as she sat thus waiting, not daring to stir lest the slightest movement might keep from her ears some sound from below, till at last the interval seemed so long that her heart began to sink, and her excitement to fail. It could not be any one—if it had been auy one, something more must have come of it before now. It must have been Lydia Richmond coming to see her sister next door, or somebody connected with the election, or
When she got as far as this, Lucilla's heart suddenly mounted up again with a spring into her ears. She heard neither words nor voice, but she heard something which had as great an effect upon her as either could have had. On the landing half-way up the stairs, there had stood in Dr Marjoribanks's house from time immemorial a little old-fashioned table, with a large china bowl upon it, in which the cards of visitors were placed. It was a great bowl, and it was always full, and anybody rushing up-stairs in a reckless way might easily upset table and cards and all in their progress. This was what happened while Lucilla sat listening. There was a rumble, a crash, and a sound as of falling leaves, and it made her heart, as we have said, jump into her ears. "It is the table and all the cards," said Lucilla—and in that moment her composure came back to her as by a miracle. She un