It was strange how completely all the old life had died away. Both had felt a kind of affection for the homely farmer and his wife--they sent many presents to them--but Beatrice would curl her proud lip in scorn when she read aloud that "Mr. And Mrs. Thorne desired their humble duty to Lady Earle."
Lady Earle felt no anxiety about her son's return; looking at his daughters, she saw no fault in them. Beautiful, accomplished, and graceful, what more could he desire? She inwardly thanked Providence that neither of them bore the least resemblance to the Thornes. Beatrice looked like one of the Ladies Earle just stepped out from a picture; Lillian, in her fair, dove-like loveliness, was quite as charming. What would Lady Earle--so truthful, so honorable--have thought or said had she known that their bright favorite with the Earle face had plighted her troth, unknown to any one, to the captain of a trading vessel, who was to claim her in two years for his wife?
Lady Earl had formed her own plans for Beatrice; she hoped the time would come when she would be Lady Earle of Earlescourt. Nothing could be more delightful, nothing easier, provided Beatrice would marry the young heir, Lionel Dacre.
One morning, as the sisters sat in Lillian's room, Lady Earle entered with an unusual expression of emotion on her fair, high- bred face. She held an open letter in her hand.
"My dear children," she said, "you must each look your very best this evening. I have a note here--your father will be home tonight."
The calm, proud voice faltered then, and the stately mistress of Earlescourt wept at the thought of her son's return as she had never wept since he left her.
Once more Ronald Earle stood upon English shores; once again he heard his mother tongue spoken all around him, once again he felt the charm of quiet, sweet English scenery. Seventeen years had passed since he had taken Dora's hand in his and told her he cared nothing for all he was leaving behind him, nothing for any one in the world save herself--seventeen years, and his love- dream had lasted but two! Then came the cruel shock that blinded him with anger and shame; then came the rude awakening from his dream when, looking his life bravely in the face, he found it nothing but a burden--hope and ambition gone--the grand political mission he had once believed to be his own impossible nothing left to him of his glorious dreams but existence--and all for what? For the mad, foolish love of a pretty face. He hated himself for his weakness and folly. For that--for the fair, foolish woman who had shamed him so sorely--he had half broken his mother's heart, and had imbittered his father's life. For that he had made himself an exile, old in his youth, worn and weary, when life should have been all smiling around him.
These thoughts flashed through his mind as the express train whirled through the quiet English landscape. Winter snows had fallen, the great bare branches of the tall trees were gaunt and snow-laden, the fields were one vast expanse of snow, the frost had hardened the icicles hanging from hedges and trees. The scene seemed strange to him after so many years of the tropical sun. Yet every breath of the sharp, frosty air invigorated him and brought him new life and energy.