"I shall not forget," said Lionel, pained at the sad words and the sad voice.
As Lord Earle went home for the first time during the long years, a softer and more gentle thought of Dora came to him. "She must have been--" What--what did Lionel suspect of her? Could it be that, seeing their divided lives, people judged as his young kinsman had judged--that they thought Dora to blame--criminal, perhaps? And she had never in her whole life given one thought to any other than himself; nay, her very errors--the deed he could not pardon--sprung from her great affection for him. Poor Dora! The pretty, blushing face, with its sweet, shy eyes, and rosy lips, came before him--the artless, girlish love, the tender worship. If it had been anything else, any other fault, Ronald must have forgiven her in that hour. But his whole heart recoiled again as the hated scene rose before him.
"No," he said, "I can not forgive it. I can not forget it. Men shall respect Dora; no one must misjudge her; but I can not take her to my heart or my home again. In the hour of death," he murmured, "I will forgive her."
Lady Earle thought her son looked graver and sadder that day than she had ever seen him. She had not the clew to his reflections; she did not know how he was haunted by the thought of the handsome, gallant young man who must be his heir--how he regretted that no son of his would ever succeed him--how proud he would have been of a son like Lionel. He had but two children, and they must some day leave Earlescourt for homes of their own. The grand old house, the fair domain, must all pass into the hands of strangers unless Lionel married one of the beautiful girls he loved so dearly.
Lady Helena understood a little of what was passing in his mind when he told her that he had met Lionel Dacre, who was coming to dine with him that day.
"I used to hope Beatrice might like him," said Lady Earle; "but that will never be--Lord Airlie has been too quick. I hope he will not fall in love with her; it would only end in disappointment."
"He may like Lillian," said Lord Earle.
"Yes," assented Lady Helena. "Sweet Lily--she seems almost too pure and fair for this dull earth of ours."