‘Mrs Thorne is richer than half the dukes,’ said the squire. Then the door was opened by a porter, and Lily found herself within the hall. Everything was very great, and very magnificent, and, as she thought, very uncomfortable. Presently she heard a loud jovial voice on the stairs. ’Mr Dale, I’m delighted to see you. And this is your niece Lily. Come up, my dear. There is a young woman upstairs dying to embrace you. Never mind the umbrella. Put it down anywhere. I want to have a look at you, because Bernard swears that you’re so pretty.’ This was Mrs Thorne, once Miss Dunstable, the richest woman in England, and the aunt of Bernard’s bride. The reader may perhaps remember the advice which she once gave to Major Grantly, and her enthusiasm on that occasion. ’There she is, Mr Dale; what do you think of her?’ said Mrs Thorne as she opened the door of a small sitting-room wedged in between two large saloons, in which Emily Dunstable was sitting.
‘Aunt Martha, how can you be so ridiculous?’ said the young lady.
’I suppose it is ridiculous to ask the question to which one really wants to have an answer,’ said Mrs Thorne. ’But Mr Dale has, in truth, come to inspect you, and to form an opinion; and, in honest truth, I shall be very anxious to know what he thinks—though, of course, he won’t tell me.’
The old man took the girl in his arms, and kissed her on both cheeks. ‘I have no doubt you will find out what I think,’ he said, ’though I should never tell you.’
‘I generally do find out what people think,’ she said. ’And so you’re Lily Dale?’
‘Yes, I’m Lily Dale.’
’I have so often heard of you, particularly of late; for you must know that a certain Major Grantly is a friend of mine. We must take care that that affair comes off all right, must we not?’
‘I hope it will.’ Then Lily turned to Emily Dunstable, and, taking her hand, went up and sat beside her, while Mrs Thorne and the squire talked of the coming marriage. ‘How long have you been engaged?’ said Lily.
’Really engaged about three weeks. I think it is not more than three weeks ago.’
’How very discreet Bernard has been. He never said a word about it while it was going on.’
‘Men never do tell, I suppose,’ said Emily Dunstable.
‘Of course you love him dearly?’ said Lily, not knowing what else to say.
‘Of course I do.’
’And so do we. You know he’s almost a brother to us; that is, to me and my sister. We never had a brother of our own.’ And so the morning was passed till Lily was told by her uncle to come away, and was told also by Mrs Thorne that she was to dine with them in the square on that day. ‘You must not be surprised that my husband is not here,’ she said. ’He’s a very odd sort of man, and he never comes to London if he can help it.’