“You’re very quiet; you must feel going away,” she said.
“Yes,” George admitted; “I feel it a good deal.”
“Ah! I don’t know anybody else who would have gone—I feel selfish and shabby in letting you.”
“I don’t think you could stop me.”
“I haven’t tried. I suppose I’m a coward, but until you promised to look after matters, I was afraid of the future. I have friends, but the tinge of contempt which would creep into their pity would be hard to bear. It’s hateful to feel that you are being put up with. Sometimes I thought I’d go back to Canada.”
“I’ve wondered how you stood it as long as you did,” George said incautiously.
“Aren’t you forgetting? I had Dick with me then.” Sylvia paused and shuddered. “It would be so different now.”
George felt reproved and very compassionate.
“Yes,” he said, “I’m afraid I forgot; but the whole thing seems unreal. It’s almost impossible to imagine your living on a farm in western Canada.”
“I dare say it’s difficult. I’ll confess I’m fond of ease and comfort and refinement. I like to be looked after and waited on; to have somebody to keep unpleasant things away. That’s dreadfully weak, isn’t it? And because I haven’t more courage, I’m sending you back to the prairie.”
“I’m quite ready to go.”
“Oh, I’m sure of that! It’s comforting to remember that you’re so resolute and matter-of-fact. You wouldn’t let troubles daunt you—perhaps you would scarcely notice them when you had made up your mind.”
The man smiled, rather wistfully. He could feel things keenly, and he had his romance; but Sylvia resumed:
“I sometimes wonder if you ever felt really badly hurt?”
“Once,” he said quietly. “I think I have got over it.”
“Ah!” she murmured. “I was afraid you would blame me, but now it seems that Dick knew you better than I did. When he made you my trustee, he said that you were too big to bear him malice.”
The blood crept into George’s face.
“After the first shock had passed, and I could reason calmly, I don’t think I blamed either of you. You had promised me nothing; Dick was a brilliant man, with a charm everybody felt. By comparison, I was merely a plodder.”
Sylvia mused for a few moments.
“George,” she said presently, “I sometimes think you’re a little too diffident. You plodders who go straight on, stopping for nothing, generally gain your object in the end.”
His heart beat faster. It looked as if she meant this for a hint.
“I can’t thank you properly,” she continued; “though I know that all you undertake will be thoroughly carried out. I wish I hadn’t been forced to let you go so far away; there is nobody else I can rely on.”
He could not tell her that he longed for the right to shelter her always—it was not very long since the Canadian tragedy—but silence cost him an effort. At length she touched his arm.