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CHAPTER THE LAST.
TAIS was the hardest personal encounter which Miss Marjoribanks was subjected to; but when the news circulated in Grange Lane there was first a dead pause of incredulity and amazement, and then such a commotion as could be compared to nothing except a sudden squall at sea. People who had been going peaceably on their way at one moment, thinking of nothing, were to be seen the next buffeted by the wind of Rumour and tossed about on the waves of Astonishment. To speak less metaphorically (but there are moments of emotion so overwhelming and unprecedented that they can be dealt with only in the language of metaphor), every household in Grange Lane, and at least half of the humbler houses in Grove Street, and a large proportion of the other dwellings in Carlingford, were nearly as much agitated about Lucilla's marriage as if it had been a daughter of their own. Now that he was recalled to their minds in such a startling way, people began to recollect with greater and greater distinctness that “ there was once a cousin, you know," and to remember him in his youth, and even in his boyhood, when he had been much in Carlingford. And by degrees the Grange Lane people came to see that they knew a great deal about Tom, and to remind each other of the abrupt end of his last visit, and of his going to India immediately after, and of many a little circumstance in Lucilla's looks and general demeanour which this dénouement seemed to make plain.
Lady Richmond, though she was a little annoyed about Mr Ashburton's disappointment, decided at once that it was best to ignore that altogether, and was quite glad to think that she had always said there must be somebody. “She bore up a great deal too well against all her little disappointments,” she said, when discussing the matter. “When a girl does that one may be always sure there is somebody behindand you know I always said, when she was not just talking or busy, that there was a preoccupation in Lucilla's eye.” This was a speech which Mrs Woodburn, as might have been expected, made a great deal of—but, notwithstanding, it had its effect in Grange Lane. Going back upon their recollections, most people were able to verify the fact that Miss Marjoribanks had borne her little disappointments very well,
and that there was sometimes a preoccupation in her eye. The first was beyond dispute ; and as for the second, it was a thing which did not require a very great stretch of imagination to suppose — and the unexpected sensation of finding at last a distinct bit of romance to round off Lucilla's history, was pleasant to most people. If she had married Mr Ashburton, it would have been (so far as anything connected with Miss Marjoribanks could be) a commonplace conclusion. But now she had upset everybody's theories, and made an altogether original and unlooked-for ending for herself, which was a thing to have been expected from Lucilla, though nobody could have foreseen the special turn which her originality would take.
And nothing could have come in more appropriately after the election, when people felt the blank of ordinary existence just beginning to settle down upon them again. It kept all Carlingford in conversation for a longer time than might be supposed in these busy days; for there was not only the fact itself, but what they were to do, and where they were to go, to be discussed. And then Tom himself began to be visible about Grange Lane ; and he had heaps of Indian things among his baggage, and recollected so affectionately the people he used to know, and dispensed his curiosities with such a liberal hand, that
the heart of Carlingford was touched. He had a way of miscalculating distances, as has been said, and exercised some kind of magnetic influence upon all the little tables and unsteady articles of furniture, which somehow seemed to fall if he but looked at them. But, on the other hand, John Brown, who had in hand the sale of Marchbank, found him the most straightforward and clear-headed of clients. The two had all the preliminaries arranged before any other intending purchaser had time to turn the matter over in his mind. And Tom had the old brick house full of workmen before anybody knew it was his. When the summer had fairly commenced he went over and lived there, and saw to everything, and went so far as to fit up the drawing-room with the same well-remembered tint of pale green which had been found ten years ago to suit so well with Lucilla's complexion. It was perhaps a little hazardous to repeat the experiment, for green, as everybody knows, is a very trying colour ; but it was a most touching and triumphant proof that to Tom, at least, Lucilla was as young as ever, and had not even begun to go off. It was Mr Holden who supplied everything, and he was naturally proud of the trust thus reposed in him, and formed the very highest opinion of his customer; and it was probably from his enthusiasm on this subject that might be traced the commencement of that singular
revolution of sentiment in Grange Lane, which suddenly woke up all in an instant without knowing how, to recognise the existence of Mr Marjoribanks, and to forget the undue familiarity which had ventured upon the name of Tom.
When Lucilla went over in the most proper and decorous way, under the charge of aunt Jemima, to see her future home, the sight of the village at Marchbank was sweet to her eyes. That it was not by any means sweet to any other sense did but enhance Miss Marjoribanks's satisfaction. “A year after this !” she said to herself, and her bosom swelled; for to realise clearly how much she had it in her power to do for her fellow-creatures was indeed a pleasure. It occupied her a great deal more than the gardens did, which Tom was arranging so carefully, or even than the kitchen, which she inspected for the information of Nancy; for at that time the drawing-room was not fitted up. Lucilla's eyes went over the moral wilderness with the practical glance of a statesman, and, at the same time, the sanguine enthusiasm of a philanthropist. She saw of what it was capable, and alrea dy, in imagination, the desert blossomed like a rose before her beneficent steps, and the sweet sense of well-doing rose in her breast. And then to see Tom at Marchbank was to see his qualities. He was not a man of original mind, nor one