He smiled, but slightly shook his head with a look which she fancied meant “Too late.” Mrs. Pickering began to tell the latest Fordborough scandal, and the talk drifted into another channel.
Lottie had listened as she always listened when Percival spoke, but she had not attached any peculiar meaning to his words. But an hour or so later, when he was gone and she was loitering in the garden just outside the window, Addie, who was within, made some remark in a laughing tone. Lottie did not catch the words, but Mrs. Blake’s reply was distinct and not to be mistaken: “William Pickering, indeed! No: with your looks and your expectations you girls ought to marry really well.” Lottie stood aghast. They would have money, then? She had never thought about money. She would be an heiress? And Percival would never marry an heiress—he could not: had he not said so? How gladly would she have given him every farthing she possessed! And was her fortune to be a barrier between them for ever? Every syllable that he had spoken was made clear by this revelation, and rose up before her eyes as a terrible word of doom. But she was not one to be easily dismayed, and her first cry was, “What shall I do?” Lottie’s thoughts turned always to action, not to endurance, and she was resolved to break down the barrier, let the cost be what it might. Her talk with Godfrey Hammond gave a new interest to her romance and new strength to her determination. Since her hero was disinherited and poor, and she, though rich, would be poor in all she cared to have if she were parted from him, might she not tell him so when she saw him on her birthday? She thought it would be easier to speak on the one day when in girlish fashion she would be queen. She would not think of her own pride, because his pride was dear to her. She could not tell what she would say or do: she only knew that her birthday should decide her fate. And her heart was beating fast in hope and fear the night before when she banged the door after her and went off to bed, sublimely ready to renounce the world for Percival.
DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES—ALFRED THORNE’S IS TOLD BY THE WRITER.
Mr. Thorne of Brackenhill was a miserable man, who went through the world with a morbidly sensitive spot in his nature. A touch on it was torture, and unfortunately the circumstances of his daily life continually chafed it.
It was only a common form of selfishness carried to excess. “I don’t want much,” he would have said—truly enough, for Godfrey Thorne had never been grasping—“but let it be my own.” He could not enjoy anything unless he knew that he might waste it if he liked. The highest good, fettered by any condition, was in his eyes no good at all. Brackenhill was dear to him because he could leave it to whom he would. He was seventy-six, and had spent his life in improving his estate, but he prized nothing about it so much as his right to give the result of his life’s work to the first beggar he might chance to meet. It would have made him still happier if he could have had the power of destroying Brackenhill utterly, of wiping it off the face of the earth, in case he could not find an heir who pleased him, for it troubled him to think that some man must have the land after him, whether he wished it or not.