After a while she beckoned him, and they leaned upon the terrace wall side by side. She was a good-natured, simple woman, with strongly domestic habits and conventional views.
“I’m glad Herbert has got away from business for a few days,” she began. “He works too hard, and it’s telling on him. How do you think he is looking?”
George knew she was addicted to displaying a needless anxiety about her husband’s health. It had struck him that Herbert was getting stouter; but he now remembered having noticed a hint of care in his face.
“The rest will do him good,” he said.
Mrs. Lansing’s conversation was often disconnected, and she now changed the subject.
“Herbert tells me you are going to Canada. As you’re fond of the open air, you will enjoy it.”
“I suppose so,” George assented rather dubiously.
“Of course, it’s very generous, and Sylvia’s fortunate in having you to look after things”—Mrs. Lansing paused before adding—“but are you altogether wise in going, George?”
Lansing knew that his hostess loved romance, and sometimes attempted to assist in one, but he would have preferred another topic.
“I don’t see what else I could do,” he said.
“That’s hardly an answer. You will forgive me for speaking plainly, but what I meant was this—your devotion to Sylvia is not a secret.”
“I wish it were!” George retorted. “But I don’t intend to deny it.”
His companion looked at him reproachfully.
“Don’t get restive; I’ve your best interests at heart. You’re a little too confiding and too backward, George. Sylvia slipped through your fingers once before.”
George’s brown face colored deeply. He was angry, but Mrs. Lansing was not to be deterred.
“Take a hint and stay at home,” she went on. “It might pay you better.”
“And let Sylvia’s property be sacrificed?”
“Yes, if necessary.” She looked at him directly. “You have means enough.”
He struggled with his indignation. Sylvia hated poverty, and it had been suggested that he should turn the fact to his advantage. The idea that she might be more willing to marry him if she were poor was most unpleasant.
“Sylvia’s favor is not to be bought,” he said.
Mrs. Lansing’s smile was half impatient.
“Oh, well, if you’re bent on going, there’s nothing to be said. Sylvia, of course, will stay with us.”
The arrangement was a natural one, as Sylvia was a relative of hers; but George failed to notice that her expression grew thoughtful as she glanced toward where Sylvia was sitting with a man upon whom the soldier stamp was plainly set. George followed her gaze and frowned, but he said nothing, and his companion presently moved away. Soon afterward he crossed the lawn and joined a girl who waited for him. Ethel West was tall and strongly made. She was characterized by a keen intelligence and bluntness of speech. Being an old friend of George’s, she occasionally assumed the privilege of one.