One or two people came out, and when somebody called her name Sylvia left him, without promising. Bland remained leaning on the wall and thinking hard. Sylvia strongly attracted him. She was daintily pretty, quick of comprehension, and, in spite of her black attire, which at times gave her a forlorn air that made him compassionate, altogether charming. It was, however, unfortunate that he could not marry a poor wife, and he knew nothing about Sylvia’s means. To do him justice, he had shrunk from any attempt to obtain information on this point; but he felt that it would have to be made before things went too far. His thoughts were interrupted by Ethel West, who strolled along the terrace and stopped close at hand.
“I didn’t expect to find you wrapped in contemplation,” she remarked.
“As a matter of fact, I’ve been talking.”
“To Mrs. Marston? She’s generally considered entertaining.”
Bland looked at her with a smile. He liked Ethel West. She was blunt, without being tactless, and her conversation was sometimes piquant. Moreover, he remembered that Ethel and Sylvia were old acquaintances.
“I find her so,” he said. “Though she has obviously had trouble, she’s very bright. It’s a sign of courage.”
“In Sylvia Marston’s case, it’s largely a reaction. She spent what she regards as two harrowing years in Canada.”
“After all, Canada doesn’t seem to be a bad place,” said Bland. “Two of my friends, who left the Service, went out to take up land and they evidently like it. They got lots of shooting, and they’ve started a pack of hounds.”
Ethel considered. She could have told him that Sylvia’s husband had gone out to make a living, and had not been in a position to indulge in costly amusements, but this did not appear advisable.
“I don’t think Marston got a great deal of sport,” she said. “He had too much to do.”
“A big place to look after? I understand it’s wise to buy up all the land you can.”
Ethel’s idea of the man’s views in respect to Sylvia was confirmed. He was obviously giving her a lead and she followed it, though she did not intend to enlighten him.
“Yes,” she answered; “that’s the opinion of my brother, who’s farming there. He says values are bound to go up as the new railroads are built, and Marston had a good deal of land. Sylvia is prudently keeping every acre and farming as much as possible.”
She saw this was satisfactory to Bland, and she had no hesitation in letting him conclude what he liked from it. It was not her part to caution him, and it was possible that if no other suitor appeared, Sylvia might fall back on George, which was a risk that must be avoided at any cost. Ethel did not expect to gain anything for herself; she knew that George had never had any love for her; but she was determined that he should not fall into Sylvia’s hands. He was too fine a man, in many ways, to be thus sacrificed.